Tough Love: Can Employers Regulate Relationships in the Workplace?

Long hours in close quarters, groups of people with similar ages and interests—in many ways, office romance is inevitable. While love is always something to be celebrated, office relationships can at the least be distracting and, in extreme cases, downright chaotic.

What can employers do to minimize the risk associated with office romance?

We recommend the following practical tips:

1. Embrace the love! But be clear with employees about your expectations for managing their personal issues outside of work.

2. Review your company policies regarding office relationships. Most companies have written policies that discourage or prohibit managers from dating subordinates already embedded in their sexual harassment, ethics or conflict of interest policies, but most are silent on issues of co-workers dating. The policy is up to you, but it helps to have it on record that you do not encourage romantic office relationships.

3. Some employment lawyers recommend creating a “relationship contract” or “love contract” between the two parties in an office romance. While a contract like this probably doesn’t offer the employer protection from harassment or retaliation claims in the workplace, it may provide the following advantages:

  • It documents the fact that the two employees agree that their romantic relationship has been entered into freely and without coercion.
  • It reinforces the company position that the company has not approved or encouraged the office romance.
  • It can also reinforce awareness of the company policies regarding conduct in the workplace, sexual harassment and conflicts of interest.

Download a sample love contract now.

The bottom line is that you know your employees and the type of company culture you want to nurture. Carefully crafted policies, love contracts, management training and thorough employee communications can help you show the love to your employees and customers in all the right ways.