Austin TX Business Law Blog

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Managing Office Romances

Should I use “love contracts” in the workplace?

Office romances are always a challenge for employers.  With the current #MeToo movement, employers today are all the more concerned about addressing and managing office romances in a way so as to avoid lawsuits.  Employers may attempt to institute a policy against office romances, while others allow relationships so long as they are declared.  Our Austin, Texas employment law attorneys offer some tips for small businesses as to how to best manage relationships in the workplace.  

Banning Office Romances 

One approach employers take is to institute a ban on office romances.  Employers often do so through an anti-fraternization policy.  These policies will generally bar interpersonal relationships in the workplace among some employees.  Most anti-fraternization policies will likely prohibit relationships between managers and support staff.  It will further probably ban relationships between employees separated by two or more levels of the chain of command.  
Anti-fraternization policies can be effective in preventing inappropriate relationships between employees in managerial positions and those who report to them.  Such relationships could set employers up for sexual harassment claims in the event the office romance leads to termination of the lower level employee.  However, anti-fraternization policies can be incomplete in that they ignore the fact that employee romances are likely to occur, regardless of company policies against them.

Using a “Love Contract”

Some employers have turned to the use of so-called “love contracts” as a way to allow office romances, so long as employees declare the romance and certify that it is consensual.  These documents vary, but most will contain language affirming that the relationship is voluntary.  The documents will further include the company’s dating and sexual harassment policies.  Love contracts can prove effective in allowing office romances, while mitigating the chance of litigation.  However, they could come with a downside in that they may make it appear that the workplace supports office romances.  

Ensuring You Have a Strong Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy

Regardless of your company’s choice as to regulation of office romances, it is perhaps most important that your workplace has a strong sexual harassment policy in place.  Employers must make it clear to employees that sexual harassment is not tolerated.  Employees should be informed as to the precise way in which they can report instances of sexual harassment.  Employers should contact an employment law attorney to find out more about how best to protect their workplace with effective company policies. 

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