Love Is in the Air (and in the Office): How to Approach Romantic Relationships in the Workplace
February 12, 2021
Office Relationships

It’s almost Valentine’s Day, which means romance and love are in the air. Speaking of romance, a recent study conducted by SHRM found about 76% of participants have dated their coworkers. Not only that, but 21% of participants stated they have dated a subordinate with another 27% having dated a superior. As we all are aware, relationships can be difficult outside of the office let alone when it’s happening inside the office. Relationships between colleagues have often worried employers as it is believed such relationships can cause favoritism, harassment, conflicts of interests, retaliation, and other potential legal issues. As a human resources professional, you need to be aware of your importance in such matters and how you can best approach romantic relationships in the workplace.

Office Relationships

Understand the legal implications

First and foremost, it is important to understand any potential legal implications that may arise from in-office romances. While we are not lawyers, we can provide you with some information we were able to gather.

According to Greg Griffiths, an employment attorney based in Rochester, Minnesota, there are four typical problems with romantic relationships in the workplace:

  • Perceptions of unfair treatment and favoritism if a supervisory relationship exists
  • Employee discomfort over public displays of affection
  • The potential for later sexual harassment or retaliation if the relationship deteriorates
  • Allegations of conflicts of interest, impaired business judgment, and confidentiality breaches on the part of a supervisor involved in such a relationship.

In any of these situations, there are serious issues that require attention from your team.

According to attorney Griffiths, if you find yourself in this predicament, there are important steps to take:

  • Conduct an impartial and comprehensive investigation of the claim. This includes interviewing the complainant and any relevant witnesses.
  • After you gather the necessary information, take the action you deem appropriate.
  • Keep all information you gather on file
  • Offer support to those involved
  • Confer with legal help if needed

For more information on types of workplace discrimination, refer to this resource from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Always consult the professionals

While you should understand the potential risks and have policies in place to assist in your efforts, ultimately, you will want to have a trusted legal advisor should anything happen. This advisor can help you navigate through these situations and develop and implement policies to mitigate any potential risks. Our advice is to confer with legal professionals before a situation occurs rather than doing damage control after.

Develop appropriate policies and communicate them to your team

There are many avenues your team can take on how you would like to approach office romances. However, one thing is certain. Your team needs to develop and communicate office romance policies. There are a few different options that exist, and it is ultimately up to your team what direction you would like to take. Below are a few common policies implemented by many human resources professionals.

Office Relationships

A complete and total ban

If you’d like to try and avoid these situations altogether, your team may decide to try and ban office romances entirely. We believe it is important to note that a complete and total ban on office relationships does not mean they won’t occur. If anything, it may increase the likelihood that if these relationships form, your employees will not be transparent with you about them. In fact, this article states that only up to 5%  of employees will actually report an in-office romance. For this reason, we would not consider this to be the most feasible option.

Bans on employee-to-supervisor relationships

In this scenario, there is a ban on any relationships between employees and their supervisors and vice versa. A major part of this policy is to help companies avoid any situations where an employee may be shown favoritism regarding pay, promotions, benefits, and more. It also aims to avoid any potential of a harmful power dynamic.

Implementing a “love contract”

Now, this method sounds a little funny out loud but is actually quite common. The specifics of your company’s contract may change to best accommodate your needs, but these documents often outline the company’s other harassment and discrimination policies and have both parties acknowledge and sign off on these policies.

A ban on public displays of affection

If your team does decide to allow office romances of any kind, this policy is certainly one we recommend implementing. For those who are familiar with The Office, you may recall the episode where Toby sent out a memo banning any public displays of affection or PDA. While a memo may not be the most effective way to alert your employees, the idea behind it is right. Once you implement these policies, ensure your entire team is informed.

Regardless of the direction your team chooses to take, be sure to communicate them to all members of your team and train your employees on what to do in these scenarios. You should also be sure that you have fully thought out your policies when it comes to employee-to-employee relationships and employee-to-supervisor relationships.

Be ready to provide appropriate support if needed

Policies can be implemented but you should always be prepared for the unexpected. As a human resources professional, you sometimes need to be prepared to handle uncomfortable situations and have difficult conversations, which office romances can certainly be the cause of. As always, it is important to provide your employees with support and guidance during these times, but do not let boundaries be crossed. You aren’t their best friend that’s going to come over with ice cream and movies if the relationship doesn’t work out. Be kind, but draw the line if needed. For more on how to serve your team, especially while working remotely, read our article on how to help your employees feel heard.

Valentine’s Day is a time for romance, but it can be a source of stress for human resources professionals who aren’t prepared to handle and approach romantic relationships amongst their employees. We hope this article provides you with a bit more guidance in this area. Continue to check in every Friday for more articles on BrandResumes’ HR Corner and contact our team if you’re a human resources professional that would like to be featured in one of our articles.

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By Emily Provost

Emily is BrandResumes' Content Specialist and is an Associate Resume Writer. She completed her Bachelor of Arts in Publishing Studies with double minors in Marketing and Journalism from Hofstra University. She has had editorial experience working as an editor for various publications from Hofstra and worked as a writing tutor for undergraduate students.

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