Office Romances: Potential Risks for Employers

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, it’s a fitting time for companies to review their policies on romance in the workplace or to consider developing such policies if they don’t already have them.

Although interoffice relationships can proceed without issue, employers should consider their legal and practical drawbacks including potential conflicts of interest, sexual harassment or gender discrimination claims by one of the partners in the romantic relationship, third party sexual favoritism claims by other employees who feel they are professionally disadvantaged, diminished credibility, lowered employee morale and increased turnover.

While it is impossible to completely eliminate risks associated with workplace dating, there are several best practices employers can adopt for risk management. For companies that haven’t already done so, the first step in protecting against claims arising out of office relationships is to draft a formal workplace romance policy and apply it uniformly to all employees. Employers should obtain written acknowledgment that employees received the policy, either with a stand-alone policy acknowledgment or an acknowledgment accompanying an employee handbook. To reduce their legal exposure, employers should review the policy in detail during an annual sexual harassment prevention training.