Thursday, November 12, 2015

What can go wrong when co-workers date? A lot.

5_15True confession time. I watch The Voice. It’s not like it’s at the top of my DVR, but, my remote always seem to stop on NBC between 8 and 10 on Monday and Tuesday nights. (My pick to win this season: Amy Vachal). So, when I heard that Team Shelton and Team Gwen had formed one team outside of work, I thought, “What a great opportunity to write a blog post on office romances.” (This is how the mind of blogger works).

What can do wrong with office romances? As it turns out, a lot. So, in the spirit of The Voice, here’s 10 reasons co-workers shouldn’t turn their chairs for each other.

  1. Conflicts of interest.

  2. Extortion and blackmail attempts.

  3. Uncomfortable conversations with HR and company attorneys explaining your love life.

  4. Have to describing your employee’s private affairs in a deposition or, worse, to a jury.

  5. Office gossip.

  6. Love contracts.

  7. The loss of respect from co-workers and management.

  8. Facing termination for not disclosing a romance.

  9. Harassment and retaliation lawsuits when someone other than an employee’s paramour gets passed over for a promotion, fired, or otherwise thinks you are playing favorites.

  10. Harassment or retaliation lawsuits by a jilter partner when the relationship goes south.

Despite this list of potential horribles, there is nothing inherently illegal about romantic relationships between employees. Nevertheless, employers need to understand that permitting office romances amplifies the legal risk of claims of discrimination (i.e., sexual favoritism), harassment, and retaliation. The question, then, isn’t whether these relationship are illegal (they’re not), but how much risk you, as an employer, want to assume in the event the relationships sours, or other employees feels shunned or mistreated as a result? Ban them outright, do nothing and permit them across-the-board, permit them with a signed agreement (the “love contract”), or ban them only between managers and subordinates. These are your options. Which one you pick depends on your level of risk tolerance. If one recent survey is to be believed (nearly 85% of 18-29 year olds say that would have a romantic relationship with a co-worker), the one thing I know is that you should not ignore this issue, because it is not going away.

[Image via Michael McKoveck]