It’s Valentine’s Day – Do You Know What Your Employees Are Doing?

“Valentine’s Day is right around the corner, and while you might be tempted to show your affection to colleagues with candy, flowers or thoughtful cards, labor attorney Steve Palazzolo has one suggestion: Don’t…  ‘What worked for us in elementary school does not translate successfully to the office. To avoid conflict – or, even worse, violating discrimination laws – tread very carefully in this area.’” (Skip the Hearts and Flowers at Work for Valentine’s Day by Warner Norcross & Judd – Michigan Employment Law)

“… the easiest way to get accused of sexual harassment is to have an extramarital affair with a co-worker. Unlike dating relationships between two single people, extramarital affairs always end very badly for someone. If you decide to stick with your spouse and end the affair, your ex-partner is likely to panic and seek vengeance.” (How can I guarantee that I’ll get a sexual harassment suit? by Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP)

When office romances end – and most of the time they do – employers have more to worry about than angry coworkers going through a breakup. Employers can face a slew of related allegations: creating a hostile working environment, violating employee privacy, allowing and / or being a party to sexual harassment, among others.

Just in time to temper your Valentine’s Day buzz, here are five tips for employers on managing workplace romances:

1. Employee training should address office romance…

“Employees at all levels should understand the pitfalls and challenges, both to them and the employer, of romantic relationships at work. The message should be loud, clear and promulgated often that employees must proceed with great caution when mixing romance and work and that if the staff person believes they are being coerced into unwanted sexual activity, then they should make an internal complaint of sexual harassment.” (Romance At Work by Deborah Weinstein)

2. A policy might prevent employees from dating in the first place…

“Courts, while reluctant to monitor consensual adult relationships, are not completely unwilling to chastise employers who let employees’ behavior go unchecked. ‘No dating’ policies, whether implied or express, can provide a basis for discipline against employees who date co‐workers.” (When the Love Bug Bites in the Office by Laura Hazen)

3. Include vendors and contractors in “no dating” policies…

“Some companies … extend their anti-dating policies to relationships with company vendors, contractors and customer owners and personnel, particularly where there is a risk of a conflict of interest arising. The goal of all such policies is to preempt appearances of impropriety and to draw a line between company business decisions and ‘decisions of the heart.’ (Romance in the Workplace: You, Me and our Employer? by Nexsen Pruet, PLLC)

4. Want to let your employees decide for themselves? Enter the “Love Contract”…

“[T]he purpose of a love contract was to confirm that the relationship was consensual, and that the parties were aware of the employer’s policies against sexual harassment. It also served to define improper behavior in the workplace and to protect the involved employees from retaliation in the event of a less‐than‐happy termination of the romance, and the employer from lawsuits by a lovebird turned lovelorn.” (Office Romances And ‘Love Contracts’ By Barbara Reeves Neal – JAMS, The Resolution Experts)

5. If a relationship sours, treat employee claims seriously… 

“Don’t ignore or minimize harassment complaints for any reason. Take all allegations of harassment seriously, respond to them promptly, investigate them thoroughly, and take the action that is appropriate under the circumstances.” (A Valentine’s Day Bouquet Of Sexual Harassment Cases by Constangy, Brooks & Smith, LLP)

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