Employers Change Their Approach to Workplace Romance

Workplace romances are uneasy situations for employers at best.  At worst, they can lead to legal challenges. Although no employer wants to meddle in its employees’ love lives, the potential for sexual harassment and other claims calls for them to take a proactive approach. 

That employers are changing their approach to workplace romances seems to be borne out in the results of a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management in September 2013.

The survey showed that:

  • Twice as many employers had written or verbal policies on workplace romances in 2013 as did in 2005.
  • Ninety-nine percent of policies prohibited romances between supervisors and their subordinates. 
  • Most suspicions about workplace romances were revealed through office gossip (67 percent) or by reports to HR (61 percent).
  • Only 5 percent of respondents asked employees who are romantically involved to sign “love contracts,” but 81 percent said that love contracts provide a forum to talk to employees about inappropriate behavior.   
  • The most common action taken in response to a workplace romance was to transfer employees to another department (34 percent).

In additional to harassment claims, employers dealing with workplace romances need to be aware of state laws protecting employees’ off-duty activities. Arizona and Wyoming do not have such laws, but Colorado does. To terminate an employee for his or her lawful off-duty activity, Colorado employers must show that the activity relates to a bona fide occupational requirement or creates a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict.