A workplace romance policy goes by many names. It can also be called a workplace relationship policy, fraternization policy, dating policy, or in some instances, a non-fraternization policy. The purpose of this policy is to outline the organization's regulation regarding romantic relationships.
A workplace romance policy outlines whether romantic associations between coworkers are allowed. It also goes on to discuss what measures need to be taken if coworkers are involved in a relationship. Apart from that, it also discusses the standards for employees in romantic relationships.
The task of enforcing workplace romance policies often lies with HR managers. As such, it's crucial for HR managers to keep workplace romance policies in the employee manual. Apart from that, whenever a new employee is hired, they should be made aware of such a policy, and they must read it and understand it.
What Should a Workplace Romance Policy Cover?
Ideally, a workplace romance policy must address "actual, potential or perceived" conflicts of interest that arise as a result of workplace romance. However, some experts recommend that these policies must also cover more than just romantic relationships. For instance, they could address financial relationships as well.
A workplace romance policy must also hammer out the reporting process. This means you must clearly outline who should receive reports and how the reporting process should be done. For instance, in your organization, you can choose people like senior managers or, for partners, the chief executive partner. However, your options are not limited to just these individuals. You should take time as a leader to decide who is best suited to receive such reports.
The reporting process might include HR or very senior people within your company. The idea is that the report is handled as a very confidential issue. This will ensure that each member of the organization is very confident that their case will be treated with the utmost secrecy. That way, people will not be afraid to come forward and report. You must ensure that information never leaks out. This should not only be limited to workplace romance but must be the general culture within the organization so that people can trust the management with their workplace problems.
You must also outline that a workplace romance policy isn't necessarily to ban relationships. If you fail to explain that properly, people might not take well to the policy. In the policy, you must also state things like that would happen if the reported relationship was between people who are working closely together. In such instances, the best way to solve such an issue would be to reshuffle them. However, this should only be done if there is evidence of conflict. Otherwise, they can continue to work together.
Apart from looking at what should be covered in the policy, you must also cover what would happen if the policy is not followed. For instance, if the policy states that you should have reported a relationship and you have it, the case might be treated as a disciplinary issue. However, that does not mean that people should be fired from their jobs. Instead, the main aim of the policy is to help them deal with the conflict, minimize it or eliminate it altogether.
It's very important to first do a cultural assessment before you develop this policy. That way, you will be able to see whether the trust levels are high enough for the policy to work.
How to Create a Workplace Romance Policy
There are several steps involved in creating a workplace romance policy:
Find Out What the Company's Position on Relationships Is
The first step when creating a workplace romance policy is to first determine the organization's stance on workplace relationships. This is an important step because it sets the tone for how you are going to go about creating the policy. You must have a discussion with the company owners and stakeholders to find out what they think about relationships, including:
- Relationships between employees
- Relationships between managers and workers
Generally, companies do not have a problem with relationships between employees. If employees are at the same level and they work in separate departments in an organization, there usually isn't any problem if they are involved in a romantic relationship. On the other hand, most companies will not allow relationships between managers and their direct reports. This is because there can be serious conflicts of interest and the potential for favoritism.
Sit Down With the Legal Team
Once you have determined the company's stance on romantic relationships between workers, you can then take things further and consult the legal team. This policy is a sensitive and serious document. Therefore, a legal opinion will be very necessary. Consulting a lawyer or a team of lawyers will ensure that all your bases are covered, and the policy deals with all the necessary legal components. This way, you can rest assured it will protect the organization from legal action.
Start With a Draft
Once you have consulted with the legal team, the next step would be to create a draft of the policy. You can start from scratch or download a workplace romance policy template online. There are several templates that you can use, and you can also go through workplace romance example documents online. All you have to do is ensure that the policy contains the following:
- Purpose of the workplace romance policy.
- Explain all the topics that are covered by the policy.
- Details of the policy. You must describe in detail what the policy deems as acceptable and unacceptable concerning dating in workplace ethics.
- You must state clearly that the company does not tolerate any harassment or discrimination.
- The policy must also cover disciplinary action taken if regulations are not followed.
Workplace Romance Contract
To make things easier and more transparent, some organizations also include a relationship contract in their workplace romance policies. This is a document that is signed by the two workers who would have decided to get into a relationship. The document outlines clearly that the relationship is consensual. It also goes on to explain that both parties understand the organization's expectations and that none of the two individuals will participate in any negative behavior should the romantic relationship be terminated.
After completing the draft, you will want to share it with top-level management and other HR managers. Once they have reviewed it, they can provide their feedback and indicate if there are any basic spelling and grammatical errors. It is important to ensure that everyone in your organization's leadership understands the policy. If there are any changes that are requested, you can make edits and resend the document for final approval.
Distribution of the Workplace Romance Policy
Once the policy has been approved, you can add it to the employee handbook. If you have a previous policy and you have made edits, it is important to make sure everyone knows that some edits have been made.
Benefits of Having a Workplace Romance Policy
There are several benefits associated with implementing workplace romance policies. These include the following:
- It provides a clear guideline and states in writing what behavior is and is not acceptable in the workplace. This lowers the risk of miscommunication and misunderstandings.
- This policy ensures that no workplace relationships are kept private. When employees are aware of what the company policy says about romantic associates, there are high chances that they will be honest about their situations rather than try to conceal what's happening. Having secret relationships at the workplace can lead to disastrous situations.
- The workplace relationship policy protects the image of the company. If you have a comprehensive workplace romance policy, it will be easier to protect employers by clearly stating what behavior is allowed, problematic and illegal.
- It also protects the employees by preventing them from being discriminated against and harassed.
- Reduces Distractions in the workplace. If relationships are left to run in secret in an organization, employees can spend a lot of time trying to hide their business. On the other hand, having a clear policy on how relationships should be handled can lead to fewer distractions.
A workplace romance policy is a necessary measure that will protect both the company and its employees. After creating this policy, you must encourage open communication within the company so that anything that happens will be quickly brought to your attention.
Consequences of Office Romance (If You Don't Have a Workplace Romance Policy in Place)
Potential Conflict and Power Dynamic
When personal relationships turn romantic in an office setting, it can lead to potential conflict, especially if there's a power dynamic involved. For instance, relationships between supervisors and subordinates can create a complex chain of command, affecting professional roles and conditions of employment.
Sexual Harassment Risks
The absence of a formal workplace dating policy or anti-harassment policy can open the door to sexual harassment claims. Even consensual relationships can turn into non-consensual situations, leading to legal action against employees and the company.
Inappropriate Behaviors and Public Displays
Without clear workplace policies, there's no guideline for acceptable behavior, leading to inappropriate behaviors and public displays of affection. These actions can disrupt the office dynamic and may even be considered unacceptable behavior under certain corporate culture norms.
Employee Morale and Accusations of Favoritism
Romantic involvement between colleagues can lead to concerns about favoritism, affecting employee morale. This is particularly problematic if one of the involved parties is in a position of authority, as it can lead to abuses of authority and adverse action in career paths.
Impact on Professional Relationships
Office romance can blur the lines between professional relationships and personal issues, making it difficult to maintain a comfortable work environment. Without a zero-tolerance policy or conflict management plans, the romantic involvement can lead to a decline in professional relationships with colleagues.
Human Resources Challenges
The lack of a formal sexual harassment policy or workplace dating policy puts an extra burden on human resources. Addressing issues arising from office romance without a policy framework can be one of the biggest risks, requiring additional training and compliance resources.
Not having a workplace romance policy in place, companies expose themselves to a wide range of potential risks and conflicts that can have a lasting impact on both the employees and the organization.