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Love in the office: Three tips for successful management

You need a policy for workplace romances


Americans spend nearly half of their waking hours on the job, so it’s no wonder that many find a significant other at work. Although Colorado law prevents companies from terminating an employee engaging in legal off-duty conduct, absent a conflict of interest, meaning employers cannot terminate employees for being in an office romance, businesses should be aware of the HR implications of an interoffice romance.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s the perfect time to remind employees of any policies in place related to romance in the workplace. Here are three tips to ensure your company minimizes the risk of an office breakup turning into workplace litigation:

Create and communicate a company policy: Set expectations upfront with a clear stance on romantic employee relationships and effectively communicate it to all employees. The stance can be delivered as a company policy or incorporated into an employee handbook, and should clearly state how the company will handle conflicts of interest, complaints of favoritism, sexual harassment claims, and specify what behavior is acceptable and unacceptable. The policy should provide a safe environment for employees with any harassment claims, and clearly outline whether the employees are required to alert the appropriate human resources contact of the relationship.

Determine the relationship type: Despite some state laws protecting interoffice relationships, there are certain types of relationships that are not appropriate. First, ensure that the relationship is consensual. Neither party should feel pressured into the relationship to keep or advance their career at the company. Some companies choose to have employees sign a “love contract,” which acknowledges the relationship is voluntary and consensual, while reminding the employees of the company’s harassment, discrimination and retaliation policies. Companies should discourage relationships that create a conflict of interest, such as between a supervisor and one of their employees. Supervisors are responsible for assessing the work of their subordinates and this is compromised by the personal relationship.

Act against inappropriate relationships: Requiring employees to disclose relationships to the company gives HR awareness of the situation and allows them to determine if a transfer or separation is necessary.  If a relationship does violate company policy or has a conflict of interest, let the employees decide which of them will be transferred to a different department or position, or leave the company. Giving the employees a say in the matter can deter discrimination claims and create a solution that works for all involved parties.

Interoffice romances are common, and although many may fizzle out, some do have the potential to lead to happy, long-term relationships. In either scenario, it’s important for companies to be prepared with a policy that ensures fairness, protects employees and allows for positive workplace productivity.

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Lorrie Ray

Lorrie Ray is Director of Member Engagement at Mountain States Employers Council, Inc. (MSEC) in Denver. She is experienced in handling typical problems facing employers, including resolution of civil rights cases before state and federal administrative agencies, federal wage and hour disputes, state law claims, employment discrimination, wrongful discharge, and health and safety laws. She is also a frequent guest speaker on employment law matters. Contact her at lray@msec.org.

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