David Letterman does it and his ratings soar. What’s the harm in a little workplace romance?
Late night talk show hosts aside, when the common man’s workplace dalliances go sour, lawsuits alleging sexual harassment often follow—against former lovers and often against the employer. And with the suits come the costs of attorneys and then the damages or settlements follow.
Problems arise when relationships that appear consensual go sour. Or employees claim they entered relationships because they were led to believe they had to in order to succeed or advance. Equally troubling are claims from coworkers that an employee is being favored because of a relationship with the boss.
Employers can try to protect themselves with written policies against sexual harassment, which describe prohibited conduct.
What’s the harm in a little workplace romance?
Employers cannot prohibit lawful off-duty conduct in New York, so policies forbidding workplace romances altogether are not advisable. On the other hand, policies against relationships that create conflicts of interest, or at least requiring them to be disclosed, may be the best middle ground.
Given that the season of holiday parties is upon us, employers should remind workers that the policies apply to all company-sponsored events. The policy should contain complaint procedures and a prohibition against retaliating against employees who make good faith complaints. Managers should be trained on how to properly receive complaints. Employers should distribute the policies and obtain signed receipts from employees.
When (not if) complaints come in, they should be properly investigated and appropriate discipline meted out. The policy must be consistently applied to everyone (even when the accused is bringing in big bucks for the company).