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MANAGING CUBICLE CUPIDS: AN EMPLOYER’S GUIDE TO HANDLING OFFICE ROMANCE

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i carry your heart with me (i carry it in my heart)
I am never without it (anywhere
i go you go my dear;
and whatever is done
by me is your doing, my darling) i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) I want
n
o world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever sun will always sing to you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than the soul can hope or mind can hide)
And this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)

e.e. Cummings 

It’s February, and it’s time for my annual “Cubicle Cupids” article.  With Valentine’s Day approaching, your employees may have romance on their minds.  Let’s face it – the workplace is a convenient venue to find that special someone given the amount of time many employees spend together in the workplace, and of course, the shared experiences.  Office romances always have some impact on the workplace, and smart employers must be equipped to handle the issues which arise from these relationships. So, what arrows can you use to fill your quiver?

123c872e-28e2-4303-a5cf-27ffee8d05a3If you do not have an “office dating policy,” you might consider whether one would be appropriate for your workplace, taking into consideration your company’s size, structure, and environment and whether you would be comfortable imposing discipline for violations of the policy.  Remember, as with all HR policies, if you decide to implement an office dating policy you must, without exception, enforce the policy and impose discipline on each member of the couple equally.

If you believe that your workplace would not benefit from a full-blown office dating policy, you could simply require employees involved in a romantic relationship to notify management of the existence or dissolution of the relationship.  Having such a simple policy can protect an employer in a few ways: (1) it allows the employer to document their files concerning this consensual relationship; (2) it allows the employer to engage in a conversation with the employees about what conduct is appropriate in the workplace; (3) it allows the employer to remind employees of the company’s sexual harassment policy; and, (4) it allows the employer to make adjustments to work schedules or the management structure, if necessary.

If you do not believe a simple “notification” policy is enough to protect your particular workplace, you could consider requiring employees to sign a “Consensual Relationship Agreement” when an office romance crops up.  Such a written agreement acknowledges that the parties have entered into a mutually-consensual relationship; they are both free to end the relationship at any time; and, they will not allow the relationship to negatively affect their job performance.  This sort of agreement can be a good idea because it documents the existence of a consensual relationship in the event that it becomes an issue later on down the road.

Having a plan for dealing with failed relationships between co-workers is also very important.  If the love is lost between the two employees, you will want to do the following: (1) again, counsel the employees on your sexual harassment policy; (2) again, document their personnel files with a note that the relationship has ended and that they have both been counseled on the company’s sexual harassment policy; and, (3) if necessary, consider accommodating a request by one of the employees to be moved to another position or department, if that employee expresses legitimate concerns about working with the other.

Regardless of whether workplace romances are of concern to your business, February is a great time to review your sexual harassment policy with, and provide training to, all of your employees.  Your sexual harassment policy (and any training on it) should explain to your employees acceptable workplace behavior and what behaviors cross the line as inappropriate. Your policy must be clear, easy to read, and comprehensive.  Employees should be left with no doubt as to how to respond if they experience sexual harassment or if they witness it.  Employees should also understand that the company takes any complaints of sexual harassment seriously and will investigate and act on the same promptly.  If you need help crafting your policy, training your employees, or handling one of these sensitive issues, please call your favorite employment lawyer for guidance.  Happy Valentine’s Day!

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