Love may be blooming at your workplace as Valentine's Day approaches. For savvy business owners, this may be a good time to review (or draft) your "no fraternization" policy.
While The Beatles may have sang "All You Need Is Love," an office romance may be the last thing you business needs. It can lead to tension in the office and at times, lawsuits. Having a "no fraternization" policy in place may help avoid personal and legal drama in the workplace.
Here are five tips to get you started with your office's fraternization policy:
- Deter relationships between supervisors and subordinates. One key provision to include your "no fraternization" policy is a ban on relationships between supervisors and subordinates. These types of relationships can easily lead to sexual harassment claims. For example, a subordinate may claim sexual harassment if the boss asks for sexual favors in return for a raise.
- Consider prohibiting PDA. Along the lines of sexual harassment, sexual conduct in the office can lead to a hostile or offensive work environment. For example, if a couple's co-workers are often privy to their public displays of affection or sexual jokes and comments, it could make others feel very uncomfortable and result in an offensive work environment.
- Draft "consensual relationship agreements." For employees who are already in consensual relationships, consider having them enter into a consensual relationship agreement. This is an agreement between the couple and management that prevents them from allowing the relationship to disrupt the office. Having documentation that confirms the relationship is voluntary and consensual could also prevent sexual harassment issues from arising. However, make sure that the couple is aware of the company's sexual harassment policy when signing the agreement.
- Don't discriminate against married couples. In several states, it's illegal to discriminate against couples based on their marital status. This means that in those states, employers likely aren't allowed to fire someone solely based on their fact that they're married to someone at work. While it may be a pain to employ married couples (because they may ask for the same vacations days, for example) a blanket ban on a wedded pair could violate the law.
- Avoid a total ban. Like most laws, there's no one-size-fits-all rule for everyone. The same idea should apply to your "no fraternization" policy. By banning all office romances, you could be violating laws or may not be able to spot potential issues until it's too late.
To make your office's "no fraternization" policy work, business owners may want to consult an employment law attorney to make sure their rules aren't breaking any
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- Why You Need a Fraternization Policy (About.com)
- Office Romance, Marriage Banned by Tenn. Sheriff (FindLaw's Free Enterprise)
- Kristen Cavallari, Miguel Medina and Dating at Work (FindLaw's Law and Daily Life)
- Employment Discrimination (FindLaw)