Why You Need a Fraternization Policy at Work

People Don't Just Bring Their Professional Side to Work

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Do you think you need a fraternization policy? Also called a dating policy, a workplace romance policy, or a non-fraternization policy, I've avoided them because I believe that an employee's private life is just that - private. Here's the problem with this position.

Employees want some direction about what is acceptable workplace behavior. They don't want to unknowingly cross some secret boundary and injure their workplace status and career.

In-the-know employees understand that some policies in their workplace are unwritten, but employees are expected to understand workplace norms.

And, a fraternization policy is even more significant for employers. Some employee behavior is inappropriate and your employees need to be informed of and trained in inappropriate behavior before you can take action to deal with a situation that affects your workplace.

You would think that employee friendships and employee romantic relationships are private and only affect the private lives of employees. If you think this, you are wrong.

Over my years of consulting with clients, I have experienced dating couples screaming at each other or arguing in the middle of the workplace - at the top of their lungs. I have experienced employees getting restraining orders on a former romantic attachment. Try to deal with that in a workplace where both work. 

I have also dealt with weeping employees, several proposals during company meetings made all the more ironic when the couples divorced several years later.

But, in the meatime, our workplace drama included four children, frequent separations, money wars, hours of recriminations, and gossip about the latest chapter.

Managers Dating Employees

Managers who are dating or romantically involved with a reporting staff member is never good - for the company, the manager, the employee or his or her coworkers.

Bad news all around. So is having an employee date a manager from another department. The relationship, or frequently former relationship, limits how you can promote, laterally move, or utilize your talented employees.

Consider how it might look during a discrimination lawsuit if you fired an employee who had an affair with a member of your senior team.

I have even dealt with a sexual harassment suit for an affair that began as a consensual relationship, but for reasons too convoluted to relate here, became a legitimate claim when the employer unknowingly changed their reporting relationship.

Heck, a California court decided that a boss-reporting staff member relationship amounted to sexual harassment for the employee's coworkers.

And, you don't even want to hear about the impact of extramarital affairs on the interaction of affected families with coworkers, the workplace, or employee gatherings and events; it is never positive or happy.

A senior executive at a client company had an affair with an employee from another department. His wife found out. We found out and disciplined him. But, his family has never attended another company event - because the other woman might be there. He attends alone.

So sad.

As long as you employ whole people, you get it all. You get the professional performance, the personal issues, and everything messy in between.

These are the big issues and they do not even take into consideration the day-to-day nonsense of stolen kisses, giggling in meetings, and time on IMs and chatting. Sometimes, when I think about it, it is no wonder to me why some employers prohibit employee fraternization.

I am not in that camp because I believe that professional lives and private lives are separate - as long as the employees keep them that way. I believe that you need to deal with individual unprofessional behavior on a case by case basis.

But, I also believe that an employee-friendly, specific fraternization policy is necessary to spell out the limits and parameters in today's workplace.

Here's my recommended fraternization policy that attempts to honor the rights of both employees and employers. Will this policy work for your workplace? I hope.

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