Workplace romances can be one of the trickier issues to handle for HR professionals. In a perfect HR world, employees would realize the potential pitfalls of workplace romances and avoid them at all costs. Unfortunately, this is not the case for most companies and if you are in HR you will likely have to deal with these types of situations. As such, it is important to make sure that your company is fully prepared for when these situations arise.  

First and foremost, the most important and proactive thing a company can do to handle workplace romance issues is to create the rules before you even need them. All companies should have some type of workplace romance policy which outlines what is acceptable and not acceptable when it comes to workplace romances. Some companies have policies that ban all workplace romances in their entirety while other limit their policies to no workplace romances between supervisors and subordinates. It is up to each individual company to design a policy that works best for them and their business.

A workplace romance policy should cover topics such as: reporting all office relationships to human resources; supervisors and subordinates cannot date each other; no physical public displays of affection on company property; and no trading of romantic favors, including but not limited to dates, physical acts, or relationships, in exchange for organizational services, goods, or advantages. Other provisions that can also be included are: interactions between romantically involved employees are subject to review by a neutral third party, such as the human resources department; and, staff members may only ask out a coworker once and must not continue to ask the other person out if the answer is no. As with any other company policy, a workplace romance policy provides employees with clear expectations as well as boundaries.

Workplace romances lead to an increased risk of sexual harassment and hostile environment claims. As such, it is also important to make sure your company has an updated harassment policy which includes non-retaliation provisions and complaint procedures. It is also important to keep employees well trained regarding harassment issues. This will ensure that if there is any type of harassment issue that arises, your company will be fully prepared to follow company policy and conduct a proper investigation.

Another tool that companies sometimes use when a workplace romance arises is what is called a love contract. A love contract allows employees to be honest about workplace relationships, so those relationships can be managed. Love contracts provide employees in romantic relationships with notice of the company’s expectations. These documents generally include acknowledgments that the employees have entered a consensual, voluntary relationship as well as that they have re-reviewed the company’s harassment and other applicable policies and acknowledge the consequences of failure to follow those policies. Another expectation that is important to include is that the individuals should avoid public displays of affection at work. Remember, harassment claims by other employees can arise in those circumstances as well. When dealing with individuals who have entered into a workplace romance it is important to explain your company’s non-retaliation provisions in the event there is a report of harassment. The contract should also provide a clear explanation as to what employees should do if the relationship ever ceases to be consensual.

Being proactive when it comes to workplace romances can go very far to protecting your company from legal issues as well as preventing employee relations issues that can arise when two coworkers enter into a relationship.