Should You Rethink Your Policy on Workplace Dating?

In the wake of recent, high-profile workplace sexual harassment scandals in Hollywood and in corporate America, HR pros in companies of all sizes are rethinking their policies on workplace dating. Should you?

That depends. Banning dating in the workplace is the safest way to avoid trouble if a relationship goes sour, but is it realistic or even advisable? If you ban them, people will just take it underground, and the last thing you need is everyone in the office whispering about “Frank and Margaret” who are fooling no one with their “secret” relationship.

Also, it becomes a core values issue. If your company touts its work/life balance, how can you force employees to choose between a job and a potential partner?

All of that said, workplace dating is a quagmire of what-ifs for HR. What if the relationship ends and things get messy? What if it leads to low morale, gossip, or resentment among the staff? What if someone alleges harassment or retaliation?

The solution? A strong policy about workplace dating. If you haven’t created one, now’s the time.

Points to Consider When Crafting and Enforcing a Workplace Dating Policy:

  • Appropriate behavior in the workplace. This isn’t a gray area: professional and respectful at all times.
  • Physical contact in the workplace. Is a kiss on the cheek OK at lunch?
  • Disclosure of the relationship to HR. A full-blown announcement to staff is overkill, but the couple should let HR know what’s going on.
  • Expectations for appropriate behavior if the relationship ends.
  • Consequences for failing to cooperate.
  • Supervisor/subordinate relationships. Allowed or not? Some companies ban these outright to eliminate any thoughts of favoritism or retaliation. At the very least, the couple needs to be upfront with HR.
  • Consensual contracts. Some companies are requiring couples to sign contracts stating the relationship is consensual to avoid potential harassment claims down the road.

Mandatory Training for All Staff

When you’ve written your workplace dating policy, email it to the staff, and require mandatory participation in a training session to go over it. Everybody needs to be on the same page. Go over what’s appropriate and what’s not. Make sure everyone knows what constitutes harassment and potential consequences for it. Vital: Staff must know there will be no retaliation for reporting harassment or unwanted advances of any kind.

Mandatory Training for Managers and Supervisors

Stepping into a couple’s private business isn’t easy for anyone to do, but it’s necessary if their behavior is causing problems in the workplace. Give managers and supervisors the tools they need, including language to start the conversation and policies to enforce what is expected. If it requires more than a simple “Hey, that’s not cool,” conversation, it’s time HR steps in.

The issue of workplace dating is squarely in HR’s camp. Writing a strong, solid policy now and making sure all your employees are clear on it is the best way to head off potential problems later.

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