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Companies are, correctly, reviewing their codes of conduct and policies against sexual harassment and adding consensual relationships to anti-harassment policies. Recent surveys demonstrate that more than one-half the workforce has engaged in workplace romance. At the beginning of this year, Forbes Magazine reported that 58 percent of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with colleagues.
A surprising 72 percent of those over 50 years old have been romantically involved with a coworker. Last year, hundreds of Google employees walked out in protest over how Google executives handled sexual harassment claims, chronicling their stories on social media and garnering international headlines and media attention.
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In addition to tarnishing the corporate brand and violating articulated corporate values, workplace romances, especially between an executive and a subordinate, can lead to a sexual harassment complaint at any point, even if at one point the relationship was consensual. For example, what may have begun as consensual between a supervisor and a subordinate, can easily move into a quid pro quo situation where promises of benefits or threats of harm are offered in exchange for favors, dates or the condition that the relationship continue.
If the relationship between the superior and the employee ends or creates a hostile environment for others, or an environment where the subordinate involved in the relationship receives preferential treatment and asment, then it may form yet another basis upon which a sexual harassment suit can be filed. Moreover, workplace romances can decimate corporate culture. Employees want the workplace to be fair and want a fair opportunity to succeed and advance.
Often these relationships chip away at a culture of professionalism and neutrality. An executive, or superior, engaging in a relationship with a subordinate compromises the appearance of neutrality and does little to assure the rest of the workplace not engaged in a relationship with the boss that they are not being deprived of fair treatment and promotion opportunities earned on their merits.
Relationships at work, especially between a superior and a subordinate, create a culture where those inclined to prey on others are emboldened, and those not willing to reciprocate are alienated.
In the past, companies have concerned themselves with policies against unwelcome sexual harassment; however, thanks in large part to an education of the entire workforce through the MeToo movement, employers should now consider policies regarding consensual workplace romances as well. It is now necessary for employers to step up and guide employees through the entire relationship process. An all-out ban against dating or any kind of romantic relationship between employees is largely unenforceable and not very realistic in light of how many people have or are engaged in workplace dating.
Executives, superiors, managers or supervisors should not be allowed to date a subordinate or a direct report. Allowing executives and superiors to date employees opens the door to sexual harassment complaints, indiscretion and brand degradation. It is nearly impossible to protect against favoritism in these situations and nothing corrodes a professional culture faster than sexual favoritism.
The only way to reduce potential harm to corporate values and culture, professional reputation, productivity and legal liability is to prohibit dating in these situations and, like McDonalds, enforce a zero tolerance for violations of this strict policy. With regard to romances between coworkers, the employer should establish a workplace relationship policy that is based upon honesty, transparency and disclosure.
In other words, the employer needs to provide a policy to guide and teach employees to professionally pursue workplace romance. A new workplace romance policy should place an equal burden on both parties to inform the human resources department that the couple is engaged in a consensual relationship.
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The policy should articulate simple rules of conduct. For example, the parties agree how to handle themselves at work following a disagreement or a night of romance, for that matter. The policy should also address what will happen should a conflict of interest arise or if the parties are unable to work together following a break-up.
Will the employer allow one of the parties to transfer to another department or location; if so, how will that be decided and the employer should retain the option to make the decision without regard to any protected class characteristics.
In addition to disclosure and a romance policy, the dating coworkers should agree to a Consensual Personal Relationship in the Workplace Agreement that sets forth that the relationship is voluntary and consensual; that all forms of sexual harassment are prohibited; that the Utah worker dating agrees that their relationship will not have a negative impact on their work; that the couple will not engage in public displays of affection or other behavior that might create a hostile work environment for others; what to do in the event of a breakup or if one party needs to transfer; conflicts of interest, an agreement against retaliation following a breakup, and an overall agreement to pursue the relationship professionally while at work.
The new workplace rules require a romance policy that sets forth ability, responsibility and transparency on the part of each person who not only works with, but now is romantically involved with, their co-worker.
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A romance agreement is just that—a love contract—that proposes the terms by which a couple will professionally pursue their relationship in the workplace. The agreement should help the couple identify some of the pitfalls that may come as a result of their relationship and ask the parties to agree, beforehand, on how they will handle difficult situations, always with an emphasis on handling their relationship at work professionally.
These tools also provide HR with an opportunity to be transparent and discuss outcomes. While neither the policy nor the agreement will prevent all problems, it does provide HR with a tool to help the couple manage difficult situations i. When it comes to coworkers, the employer needs to articulate its expectations, set up a safe environment for everyone and require that dating coworkers pursue their relationship with professionalism.
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By Kathleen D. November 11, Articlesfeatured. Kathleen D. Comments 1.
Christine Emerson Braugh. Great article. Should be required reading for every HR manager and owner of the company.