The Scoop on Love Contracts
Do Dating Coworkers Need to Sign a Love Contract?
An official, signed love contract policy should solve all of your potential problems with charges of sexual harassment at the end of a romantic work relationship. Right? I wouldn't count on it, even a love contract reviewed by your employment law attorney.
A love contract policy establishes workplace guidelines for dating or romantically involved coworkers. The purpose of the policy is to limit the liability of an organization in the event that the romantic relationship of the dating couple ends.
The main component of the policy is a love contract.
The love contract is a required document signed by the two employees in a consensual dating relationship that declares that the relationship is by consent. Additionally, organizations may include guidelines on behavior appropriate at work for the dating couple.
Love contracts generally make arbitration the only grievance process available to the participants in the office romance. They eliminate the possibility of a later sexual harassment lawsuit when the relationship ends.
They relieve the company of any liability during the time period of the office romance prior to the signing of the contract.
Solutions Without a Love Contract Policy
At several client companies, managers and employees have attended sexual harassment training. In these companies, the sexual harassment policy states clearly that romantic relationships between coworkers are not the company's business unless fallout from the office romance affects the workplace.
(If this happens, Human Resources staff, of course, and their manager in conjunction, would have to address the behavior.)
A manager, however, may not become romantically involved with nor date a reporting staff member. If a manager chooses to date the reporting employee, they have been counseled to notify Human Resources.
In these instances, the manager will be the employee who needs to change jobs in the company, assuming a position is available.
This policy, in conjunction with a strong sexual harassment policy and an effective reporting and investigation policy, should protect your workplace from litigation. People in a reporting relationship should not be dating.
Complications from Employees Dating
Many HR staff will share that in their experiences of employees dating, the most frequent outcome from the relationships is marriage. But, when a marriage or a long term relationship is not the outcome, the relationship can affect your workplace.
The amicability of the breakup is a key issue. If the coupling part consensually with both in agreement about the timing, trauma is less likely to impact work. But, even employees who are no longer dating raise challenges for employers.
Can you ask a former couple to report to each other? Can you give one former partner control over any aspect of the other employee's working conditions, pay, promotions, or work transfers? What does an employer do when employees divorce, especially if they worked in the same department? Will they get along or create constant tension that other workers feel?
What if an employee has an affair with a married coworker? Can they effectively work together moving forward? Can they work in the same department? Can one report upline to the other?
The answers to these questions are complex and become more problematic in smaller companies where employers may have fewer options for moving employees around.
There is too much room for later litigation and I have already had to work with several sexual harassment cases in companies once the consensual relationship ended. The cases have not been over the dating relationship so much as that the manager's behavior toward the employee changed when the relationship ended.
Litigation Possibilities Even With a Love Contract Policy
And, increasingly, coworkers are litigating over the differential treatment the employee in the romantic relationship received from the manager - and they're winning their sexual harassment cases.
I don't believe a love contract will solve the litigation issue. Plus, employees can always charge that they were pressured into signing the love contract at a sensitive time during their employment. Additionally, any love contract policy requires disclosure of a romantic relationship to Human Resources.
Same-sex couples, people who are married to a different party, and people who are attempting to keep their relationship secret are unlikely to disclose the relationship to public scrutiny.
Even though many attorneys believe a signed love contract lessens the organization's liability, I prefer the above-recommended solutions rather than a love contract policy and a love contract. But, as also enumerated, dating employees cause conundrums for employers.
Susan Heathfield makes every effort to offer accurate, common-sense, ethical Human Resources management, employer, and workplace advice both on this website, and linked to from this website, but she is not an attorney, and the content on the site, while authoritative, is not guaranteed for accuracy and legality, and is not to be construed as legal advice.
The site has a world-wide audience and employment laws and regulations vary from state to state and country to country, so the site cannot be definitive on all of them for your workplace. When in doubt, always seek legal counsel or assistance from State, Federal, or International governmental resources, to make certain your legal interpretation and decisions are correct. The information on this site is for guidance, ideas, and assistance only.