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What Does the Law Say about Workplace Romance?

It’s no surprise romance blossoms in the workplace all the time. After all, co-workers spend a great deal of time with one another and share experiences that bond them. Most people have connected with co-workers and consider at least a few of the people they see on a daily basis friends, so it only makes sense that some of these friendships would become romantic.

Unfortunately, things can get a bit dicey when this occurs. Though many romantic relationships that begin in the workplace have a happy ending, there are those that go awry, creating discomfort for the former couple and their co-workers. This is why so many companies have taken action to prevent and/or regulate romance in the workplace.

How Do Companies Deal with Workplace Romance?

The idea of a workplace romance might seem nice to the average person, but when you are responsible for the success of a company, you need to take the personal involvement of co-workers seriously.

Statistics show the number of employers that have created verbal or written policies related to workplace romance has doubled in the last decade. More and more employers have implemented policies addressing conduct and how romances will be handled, as opposed to forbidding relationships because they know that’s nearly impossible to enforce. The goal of the policies is to protect the company in case something goes wrong and a scorned boyfriend or girlfriend decides to accuse the company of sexual harassment.

For information regarding sexual harassment in the workplace, visit Equal Employment Opportunity Commision.

Another factor that should be taken into account is who is involved in the romance. It’s one thing for peers to get involved, but entirely different when supervisors and subordinates are the subject of a romance. Nearly every company has some kind of policy against relationships such as this and about half of them ban romances between employees of significantly different rank.

Avoiding Problems with Workplace Romance

The goal of an HR department in creating these policies is not to create unrequited love, but to protect themselves if something should go wrong. If two employees become involved in a relationship and later, one accuses the other of harassment or worse, the policy is the tool the company can use to alleviate responsibility. Essentially, the employees broke company policy and the company knew nothing of it, and therefore bears no responsibility.

In addition to romance gone wrong, there are other considerations when it comes to supervisor-subordinate relationships. Situations such as this tend to rub co-workers the wrong way, especially if it seems the love interest in favored above others. There will always be the question of “was it because of the relationship?” no matter how qualified a person might be for a raise, promotion, or special treatment. This damages office morale, something the company is responsible for protecting and nurturing.

It is for these reasons companies get specific in their office romance policies. For instance, some companies do not forbid office romance in general, but two people who report to the same supervisor cannot be involved. And despite fighting an uphill battle, approximately 10% of companies forbid office romance all together.

Ultimately, what is at stake if you are faced with a romantic situation in the workplace? It is not illegal to get involved with a co-worker or anyone with whom you work, but it could cost you your job. Your best bet is to avoid office romance if possible, but to be open with HR about any romance that does arise. And be prepared to prioritize – if it is against company policy to be involved with a co-worker, you could be forced to choose between your job and your beau.

If you believe you were treated unfairly because of a romantic situation in the workplace or you have questions about your company’s HR policies, we can help. Contact Borrelli & Associates, P.L.L.C. to discuss your situation.


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