HR Guidelines for Workplace Romance

If your company has several employees that work closely to accomplish your organizational goals, it’s a pretty safe bet that an office romance will develop at some point in time. After all, they spend up to 40 hours together every week, and dating today—well, don’t get me started. In fact, over 1/3 of people have dated a co-worker according to the annual CareerBuilder Valentine’s Survey. Thirty-one percent (31%) of those who started dating at work end up getting married—not an unfamiliar concept for some high-powered couples who also had a workplace romance: Barack & Michelle Obama, Bill & Melinda Gates, and Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

While workplace romances are fairly common, it has actually hit a 10 year low, down from 41% last year. Chief human resources office at CareerBuilder, Rosemary Haefner, says:

Office romance is experiencing a dip and whether it’s impacted by the current environment around sexual harassment or by workers not wanting to admit the truth, the fact remains that office romance has been around forever and will continue to be. To avoid negative consequences at work, it’s important to set ground rules within your relationship that help you stay professional in the office and keep your personal life private.

We could debate whether or not office romance is a good or a bad idea till the cows come home, but the fact remains that your HR department should be prepared to handle this issue before it gets out of control.


Why should you have a workplace romance policy?

Office romances are a huge liability that could leave a company open to sexual harassment allegations as well as accusations of favoritism and conflicts of interest. They rarely stay quiet, even if those in the relationship are trying to keep it secret. Rumors and speculation can hurt productivity and negatively impact employee morale. Public displays of affection can also be a source of workplace distraction. By having a workplace romance policy in place, you can set expectations for your employees and provide them with the guidance for appropriate workplace behavior.


What should a workplace romance policy cover?

Do not pass go.

Relationships between supervisors and subordinates should simply not be allowed. Not only does is complicate the work environment for those in the relationship, but often leads to complaints from others about favoritism and unfair advantages given to the subordinate.

A few companies may go so far as to ban all workplace relationships, but many allow relationships as long as employees are in different departments or there is no hierarchical association between the two.

Love contracts.

For consensual and serious relationships, disclosures to the human resource department are often required. This reduces your organization’s liability exposure, especially for sexual harassment allegations. If you require employees to sign a disclosure, you may consider including the following elements:

  • Acknowledgement that the relationship is consensual
  • Acknowledgement that the relationship was never a term of employment
  • Agreement to follow any PDA policies held by your organization
  • Agreement that the relationship will not affect job performance
  • Agreement that transfers and promotions may be affected by policies that prohibit employees to work in the same department or prohibit supervisor/subordinate relationships
  • Signed copies and agreement of all policies regarding employee relationship conduct

PDA Policies.

Public displays of affection are usually prohibited. Keeping conduct professional at work is a must to prevent disruptions to the work environment.


What should HR professionals do if co-workers break an organization’s policy and pair up anyway?

If your company has a workplace romance policy, you should be be prepared with discipline procedures if this policy is violated. According to a SHRM survey, the following actions have been taken in response to violations of the workplace romance policy:

  • Transfer one employee to a different department (34 percent);
  • Send the couple to relationship counseling (32 percent);
  • Draw up a formal reprimand (21 percent);
  • Fire the offending workers (20 percent);
  • Remove a worker from a supervisory position (12 percent);
  • Suspend the employees (8 percent).

Every company’s corporate culture is different so a workplace romance policy will certainly differ based on your company size and work environment. For recommendations, consider consulting with Exodus HR to determine the best way to limit your company’s HR liabilities.