Here’s an actual situation –
“My co-worker/boyfriend and I worked together for more than 1 year at the same organization. I have been there longer than he has and we started out as friends for the first 9 months. We started dating and I told him that I would like to remain as discreet and professional as possible. Well, some of our co-workers saw us going to lunch every day and started assuming things. I never confirmed anything with anyone because I felt it was no one’s business but ours. Some of my chauvinist male co-workers started asking my boyfriend for details of the relationship. They put him in situations where he felt he had to defend me/us. I told him prior to us dating that this would probably happen and to tell them to mind their business. But eventually, he broke down. The situation went from bad to worse one day after a male co-worker filed a harassment complaint, on my behalf, without me knowing. I heard about it from my manager who told me that she heard my boyfriend was spreading rumors. I immediately went to him and asked him if he told anyone details of our relationship. He admitted saying some things but insisted that his comments were twisted into lies. My boyfriend confronted the complainant’s supervisor and was subsequently terminated because of disruptive behavior. I have been assured that I am still a valued employee and to not worry about it. But I still feel like my reputation has been tarnished. Should I look for another job? I love my position and the organization I serve, on the other hand, I don’t feel the same. And should I end the relationship even though he says he didn’t mean any harm by it?”
Romance in the workplace is all but inevitable, and it can lead to marriage or it could lead to a lawsuit or harassment charge. After all, where can you meet that special someone anymore? With the amount of time people spend working, and the increasing percentage of women in the workforce, where else is a couple to meet?
Traditional meeting places such as church, the neighborhood, family events, and leisure time activities don’t present the same pool of candidates as they did in earlier times. In contrast, the office provides a pre-selected pool of people who share at least one important interest. Yet romantic involvement between employees is loaded with dangers for both the employees and for their employer.
People who work together also live within a reasonable dating distance, and share a location, so they see each other on a daily basis. Coworkers in similar jobs may also be approximately the same age, and share similar interests both inside and outside of work.
In years gone by, many companies tried to ban dating among their employees. Most have since abandoned that plan, because of legal restrictions and recognition of the inevitable. Instead most now try to restrict such activities that are harmful to the business, such as a dating or even married couple in a boss subordinate relationship. Often, the concern to the company is when a relationship between employees breaks apart. In many cases, the employees will handle it like adults and move on with their respective lives. In other cases, the resulting unpleasantness may require transferring one or both employees to new roles. An employee may file a claim of harassment, even if your policy is very clear and is enforced. In an extreme case, the emotional stress may lead an employee to lash out and commit an act of violence.
If you are going to allow employees “coming on” to other employees, you have to first make very clear the company policy on harassment. If an employee is not interested in, or receptive to, an advance from another employee, it should end there. Playing around, verbal sparring, etc. are appropriate preludes to dating, but only if the receiving party is comfortable with them. I have seen cases where one party thought there was more than a work relationship and even so much as an unwelcome verbal comment has triggered a serious harassment claim. If you have a harassment policy, make it very clear to all employees.
Complaints of favoritism, claims of sexual harassment, decreased productivity of those involved, decreased morale of co-workers are all outcomes of workplace relationships. When the romance ends, retaliation, stalking or physical violence sometimes arises, especially in the case where the ones involved are married to spouses outside of the workplace. This is another reason it is important to have and to make sure employees are aware of the company’s anti-harassment policy, which includes sexual harassment.
Dr. Shirley Glass, author of Not “Just Friends” states “The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love. Eighty-two percent of the 210 unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, “just a friend.´” From 1991 to 2000, Glass discovered in her practice that 50 percent of the unfaithful women and about 62 percent of unfaithful men she treated were involved with someone from work.
Men and women who work closely together under stressful conditions can quickly become attracted to one another. They often share interests over coffee or lunch getting to know one another. One researcher calls this new kind of affair the “cup of coffee” syndrome. Men and women begin with safe marriages at home and friendships at work. As they regularly meet for these breaks, relationships develop into deep friendships. Coworkers come to depend on these coffee trysts, and soon they have emotional work friendships and crumbling marriages. Longer work hours also contribute especially when companies promote “team work”, encouraging close working relationships between team members. This makes for a sometimes romantically conducive environment.
Tale-tell signs of brewing office romance include frequent meetings at the water-cooler or coffee machine, becoming more familiar with each other’s personal lives, more and more emails, instant messages and text messages becoming increasingly more endearing.
The possibility of discontented outcomes makes stern measures against workplaces relationships seem justified. However, many experts warn that policies implying that workplace romance is a problem are just as imprudent. You cannot forbid romantic relationships between employees, for running the risk of being accused of invasion of privacy.
As an employer, you can implement and enforce policies on dating and family relationships in the workplace to promote uniform treatment of all employees. Have a legal professional review these policies to ensure compliance with provincial, federal, state and local laws.
At very least, an Office Romance Policy should include that a manager and subordinate who share a romantic relationship must declare their romantic relationship, so as to avoid the perception or reality of favoritism. Further, your policy can state that one of the employees will be moved to another job, and what events are triggered if another job is not available.
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