When Cupid Comes to Work

Author: Michelle Orrock Date: February 12, 2014

With office romance on the rise, and Valentine’s Day just around the corner, employers should be aware of the hazards of workplace dating, warned America’s largest small-business association today.

Workplace romances are nothing new, but as people increasingly spend more and more time there, offices have become the new singles’ bars. A poll released in 2012 by Workplace Options found that 71 percent of employed millennials – those individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 – reported that a workplace romance is something that would have a positive impact on their work performance.

But a workplace romance gone sour could lead to some serious legal headaches, and more so for small-business owners who do not have the financial resources to defend themselves that large corporations do. For that reason, the National Federation of Independent Business is asking its members to consider these five tips to avoid legal fallout from office romances.

  • Understand your obligation to prevent harassment, including sexual harassment, in the workplace. And remember that men can be subject to harassment too so don’t dismiss complaints from male employees.
  • Be on high alert for supervisor-subordinate relationships. These can be amongst the most dangerous, legally, for employers. The relationship can lead to resentment among co-workers who feel that the employee dating the manager is being favored. And after the break-up, watch out. Be prepared to defend against claims from the subordinate employee that he or she was coerced into the relationship and discriminated against. 
  • Don’t be afraid to speak up. While you might be loath to step into what’s perceived as a personal issue, you shouldn’t hesitate to put a stop to behavior that interferes with a professional environment. Don’t make it into a bigger deal than it is – call the couple into your office and say “Kristine and Tom, you need to be really careful on the PDA front? We can’t kiss and hug in the office. "
  • Be consistent. The same rules need to apply to everyone.
  • Have an open door policy. While it’s unrealistic to prohibit workplace dating establish an open door policy that makes it easy for employees to talk about these issues with you. So if things go south, you’ll be the first to hear about it.

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