Interoffice dating laws

Even more shocking is that 40% of those year olds would date their supervisors. According to a CareerBuilder survey, interoffice dating has a fairly high.
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Essentially, any relationship between two people that could have a negative effect on the company if things sour, or if one party is able to improperly influence the other would fall under the policy. One last generally acceptable rule: Even if it does not violate a written policy, your boss the CEO or the board might not care, and view it as a lack of senior management acumen.

I tend to sound like a broken record when it comes to company policies.

Law Of Dating

So here it goes again: In my opinion, failure to equitably enforce a corporate policy is often worse than not having one. When it comes to workplace dating policies, here are a few basic options: You can do nothing.

Can an Employer Prohibit Employees from Dating One Another?

This seems to be the overwhelming favorite for smaller companies or companies that are just starting to formalize employee training. Often a CEO or president will look at the potential for risk and weigh that against the ability to police and enforce a policy. For many smaller companies, they choose to go without a policy, and let the rules on harassment and discrimination do the job. Note that you should always have a policy prohibiting and enforcing sexual harassment and discrimination. You can ban it. This is another common method, known as an "anti-fraternization policy.

You have to define and often describe the conduct you want to prohibit. Will the policy restrict casual dating, relationships, romantic involvement, or socializing? Can you even define those terms?

Ethics vs. Legal Responsibilities

I can tell you that the last place you want a policy defined is in the courts. A less restrictive policy that a lot of companies have is one preventing nepotism--prohibiting spouses or relatives from working at the same company or preventing employees from supervising related coworkers.

You can allow it, with written disclosure. This is commonly known as the "Love Contract" approach. A signed document will confirm a consensual relationship and provide additional notice of understanding of the sexual harassment policy.

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You can often use the contract process to outline expected behavior like no "PDA"--public displays of affection--at work or retaliation if the relationship ends. Make sure that you inform the employees that they have a right to and should talk to a lawyer before signing. You can allow it, but never within the chain of authority.

While this policy is easier to sell to employees most are not inside each other's reporting chain , you still have a lot of the same problems about defining conduct and what is not allowed. You can also have employees report a romantic relationship to a company representative, like an HR official. Having information up front will allow you to better respond to complaints of discrimination or favoritism.

This employee was not his direct report, but that did not matter. Huston violated that policy, and thus had to leave. Huston is not the first executive to lose his position because on an unprofessional relationship with a staff member. What exactly is wrong with these men dating a worker — especially when that worker is not a direct report?

The ethical reasons behind not allowing executives to date employees is pretty obvious. This is true even when neither party is married. After all, innocent or not, it is hard to remain unbiased against someone you are romantically linked to. If that person comes up for a promotion or has a spat with another worker, it would be easy to — even subconsciously — side with that person. On the other hand, it might be just as easy to go the other way and try to be so unbiased for the person that you actually end up doing the exact opposite and act biased against them.

If the relationship was documented, open, and no decisions about the employee were made by the executive he or she has the relationship with, then there is a chance that the only lines that are being crossed are those of some questionable morals. However, the problem occurs when the relationship does gain certain perks for the employee.

This is especially true if the employee later tries to say that the relationship was forced or only offered for those perks. There can also be some problems in situations where a policy exists saying inter-office relationships are not allowed, but it is only enforced for some people. The problem, however, really comes in the he-said she-said world that we live in. If you allow workplace relationships between supervisors and lower-level employees, there is a world of legal trouble that you could get into if it came down to disputes between the nature of the relationship.

This is especially true if the relationship was conducted in secret. Sometimes, a truly mutually sought out relationship, once ended, can bring one employee forward with a false story.

Can an Employer Prohibit Employees from Dating One Another?

However, sometimes, it might be an innocent misunderstanding, such as if the supervisor thinks the relationship is voluntary but the employee feels as if he or she has no choice. Perhaps it just genuinely was a situation where the supervisor pressured a worker into a relationship. No matter how it comes up, you probably do not want to be in a situation where you have to deal with this issue at all. When it is such a murky area anyway, why risk losing the case in court when an unhappy worker makes a claim?

Another issue that might arise from a supervisor-employee relationship comes from all of your other employees who might feel like — no matter how careful the supervisor is to not show favoritism — they are being looked over for promotions, roles, etc. Valid claims or not, this does more than effect the workplace morale. Imagine the suits a disgruntled employee might try when they feel as if another employee has a personal relationship with the boss that leads to preferential treatment. Right off the top of my head, I think of discrimination suits — especially if the supervisor has had multiple work relationships assumedly all with the same gender.

What all of this leads to is that when it comes to supervisor-supervisee relationships, you need to be really careful. To avoid all of these issues, it is a good idea to create a policy that bans supervisors from dating any employee — even one that is not a direct report. At the very least, it is wise to take steps to ensure any relationship is brought forward to the company, given visibility to the rest of the workers, and conducted in an-above board manner.


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Even if you do not have a policy that bans supervisors or executives from dating employees, make sure whatever your policy is has been put down in words, in whatever format you keep your other policies, and that it has been clearly communicated to all of your employees. Once a policy is in place, you need to be extra vigilant about enforcing it in a consistent manner.

Disparate treatment can easily lead to a lawsuit. The CEO of your company has an affair with one of the employees at your company. You find out about it. Your workplace has a very clear policy banning this type of relationship with a zero tolerance policy. This CEO is great, though, and you do not want to lose him. So you take him to the side and let him know that the relationship needs to end or you might be forced to enforce the policy. He ends the relationship. You all move on. A few years later, the CFO starts a relationship with the employee.

While the CFO is a fine employee, you have been thinking of getting someone better for a while now. Using the policy as the reasoning, the CFO is then forced to retire.

When a policy is not consistently enforced across the board, the company opens itself up to disparate treatment discrimination suits. So if you have a policy, make sure you are actually enforcing it and that you are enforcing it the same with everybody. Let us look at the first question first. There are two sides of the coin here. In the end, what it comes down to is personal choice. While you should make a clear policy and enforce it, what you decide to put in that policy should be based on how you want to operate.

However, one last interesting facet of all this is whether you can even ban these relationships at all. After all, in some states, there are laws saying you cannot ban lawful conduct outside of the workplace.

HR Policies & Procedures

Dating is a lawful conduct. So if you are in one of those states or localities, are you even allowed to ban inter-office romances? Most anti-fraternization policies have been upheld. However, if you are in a state where a legal off-conduct law exists, then you might have to be able to justify your use of the policy. Depending on the size and environment of your office, you may not want to ban all inter-office relationships. No matter what you end up making the policy, though, take steps to ensure that it is being enforced equally.

Having it effect some relationships and not others can lead to discrimination issues and bad morale. Finally, if you do allow employees to date, make sure that any major decisions — such as promotions, salary inquiries, etc.