HR & Legal Experts Weigh In: Is Love in the Workplace Kosher?
Falling in love in the workplace is a contentious issue at best, and can be in some circumstances, described as the best thing a couple has ever done, or the worst thing that they’ve ever done.
Most professionals in the workplace today try to separate their work life from their personal life and yes that means that they try to separate their love life from their work life. But, in some occasions one cannot control the power of the heart. And we succumb to our feelings and emotions towards another person. In those situations, it may help to be a little bit more educated about the benefits and potential consequences of actively engaging in a workplace-based romantic relationship.
The Society for human resource management (SHRM) estimates that roughly 43% of HR professionals report employee romances in their workplace, while those employees only report about 24% of of their personal romantic relationships. It goes without saying that at least half of all romantic relationships in the workplace don’t go reported to anyone of any authority, and definitely not to HR.
But are romantic relationships really that bad? Don’t we all want to find love even if it is in the workplace? Can’t love in the workplace be a source for productivity and engagement rather than derision and spiteful activities?
“Finding love is hard, and walking away from a possible connection that could lead us to that ultimate happiness is not an easy thing to do,” says Allen Wagner, one of Los Angeles’s top family and marriage therapists. Wagner shares instances of “countless success stories regarding relationships that started this way” but cautions that both parties must understand the situation that therein and the fragility of the relationship and their situation. He instructs couples that they have to make a pact to maintain professionalism regardless of the eventual outcome and to sit down and have a serious conversation about the implications of the entire relationship, both professionally and personally.
It is those implications that key employers and especially human resource professionals awake at night. After all, there have been many instances of employees that have been involved in a romantic relationship who will take their employers to court on the basis of sexual harassment, or on them on common basis of being able to provide a non-hostile work environment and culture. For employers, at least in the United States, there are some things that can be done to mitigate potential risks emanating from romantic choices made by employees, and managers.
Protecting your Employees and Your Organization
Keisha-Ann Gray, partner and co-head of Proskauer’s Employment Litigation and Arbitration Group advises that employers could tackle this issue through a number of solutions– one of which involves “[separating] the employees while at work and to have them sign a ‘cupid contract’ that spelled out in writing the fact that both are engaging in a welcome, consensual relationship and that set some ground rules and the events the romance flames out.”
In a new report published by a XpertHR, an organization that provides HR professionals with practical compliance tools and comprehensive guidance on federal, state and municipal law experts advise that the first step to developing a comprehensive system and policy guidelines to mitigate the risk of functional and legal issues is to consider the risks of employee relationships relevant to your company. Every organization has unique needs and therefore unique challenges and and that means that unique solutions are often times needed to correctly resolve issues. However the report does list some general guidelines: understand the dangers of supervisor – subordinate relationships, implement policies that will protect the employer’s interests, provide training to all employees and supervisors, create a complaint procedure and respond to complaints, evaluate whether a love contract is needed and of course monitor the situation.
It does bring up that employers should consider moving one employee from one department to another to ensure and maintain separation between the two employees, which might reduce the chance for public displays of affection and other problems.
Cindy Schmitt Minniti, a labor and employment partner at Reed Smith, likes to keep it relatively simple, “clear sexual harassment policies are an absolute must for all employers, and training is essential,” she tells us.
The truth is employers can never truly control or prohibit their employees from falling in love. The best they can ever do is maintain a professional and comfortable work environment to the best of their abilities and to ensure that they comply with all federal and state laws that govern employment relationships. And, I think that is where the burden on employers has to stop. In an age where employers are pushing the boundaries of privacy laws and monitoring their employees at work, employees should not welcome interference into the relationships at work in the same breath that they revolt the moment an employer reads their professional emails. It’s true, employers do have a responsibility to provide a great, non-hostile work culture and environment, but it is up to the maturity of the individuals involved to self-censor, and exercise self-control when it comes to their individual choices and relationships.
Business owners, however, are a whole different story. In a recent survey by Manta targeting over 5000 small business owners, 52% of business owners admitted that they have worked with a significant other in the past. What’s interesting is that more than 65% of them found that the impact of working with a significant other was positive, and only 13% of them felt that working with a significant other had a negative impact on their relationship. The ones that felt that working with their partner had a negative impact on their relationship felt that too much “together time” was the main cause of their problems.
Freedom is Paramount
Perhaps the freedom in being able to come and go makes it easier, in fact more rewarding to mix love with work. That freedom is generally restricted in most corporate environments for a number of ethical and legal reasons.
So, if you’re an employee my advice is, sure, go ahead and fall in love, even if it is at work. But please, do understand that there are a lot of factors that come into it, and you and your partner should consider those factors before opting for that relationship.
And, if all fails, take your partner and go start a business!