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He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not: How To Handle An Office Romance

Office RomanceSince Valentine’s Day is quickly approaching, we thought we would cover the always popular and always controversial topic: Office Romances.

A lot of people ask us: Should my company have an office romance policy or just handle the situations as they come up?

At Integrity HR, we think it is important that companies develop a policy and response to these situations before they arise, less they let the particular circumstances or their feelings toward employees in a particular situation develop the policy for them.

We suggest that the best way is not to ignore and not to prohibit, but rather to manage the relationships with boundaries.

Here are our suggestions:

RIght arrow.jpg Prohibit relationships between supervisors and their staff.

While you may not be able to stand in the way of true love, you can remove the supervisory relationship.  At no time do you want a situation – real or perceived – in which a person has decision making responsibility regarding the terms and conditions of employment of an employee with whom they are in a romantic relationship.

Your office romance policy should be explicit on this, as well as to the fact that the company reserves the right to determine which party will have a change in responsibilities or reporting structure depending upon the needs of the organization.

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RIght arrow.jpg Acknowledge the relationship.

I’m not talking about throwing a party or putting it in the company newsletter – in fact, couples who come forward should rest assured that their disclosure will remain confidential unless they choose otherwise.

Rather, HR should address the couple in order to make sure they understand the same expectations for professional behavior within the workplace still exist regardless of the nature of their relationship, and that they are expected to be discreet and respectful of the workplace.

Even though we would expect everyone to behave as adults in the workplace, sometimes we have to remind employees that simply because we permit romantic relationships in the workplace does not mean we permit romantic displays in the workplace.

RIght arrow.jpg Which, in turn, means you may have to acknowledge the breakup.

If there is a breakup and behavior gets sophomoric, it will be time to address the couple again regarding professional expectations. How they behave will affect how the rest of their coworkers behave – we don’t want to set up a great divide in the office over who did who wrong.

RIght arrow.jpg Consider a consensual agreement form.

There is a lot of debate about whether or not couples should be asked to sign forms to acknowledge that their relationship is consensual, forms also knows as “love contracts.”

Some feel that it is going too far into the lives of their employees and makes the company a third party in the relationship, while others insist that it is a protection for the company and the employees both by having written affirmation that neither employee is being unduly pressured into the relationship, therefore preventing cries of sexual harassment. If you do decide to have a love contract you should be certain to have each individual separately acknowledge:
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  • That the relationship is consensual.
  • That they understand and have received a copy of the company’s sexual harassment policy.
  • That they understand that they cannot be in a direct report/supervisor role of the other individual.
  • That if the relationship should end, they will not do anything work related to retaliate against the other nor will they continue to pursue the relationship while at work.

Whatever your policy is, have it in writing. Don’t wait until the first relationship causes a problem to take action. That said, however, don’t rely only on your policy to keep your office free from romantic woes. People are people no matter where there are, and human nature will prevail. The best way to keep a reign on potential problems is simply good management. Educate your managers and know your employees.

Keep your finger on the pulse of what is going on in your organization, and you won’t find yourself heartbroken when Cupid comes calling.