Common Romance Policies in the Modern Workplace
If you had to guess how workplace romances are usually handled today, would you guess that policies have gotten more or less strict? If you’d say more, you would be correct. When the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) surveyed employers in 2013, they found that the number of companies with a policy in place about workplace romances had more than doubled since their last survey in 2005.
This increase in workplace romance policies didn’t emerge from a desire of employers to stop workplace romances, but rather to control the circumstances in which those romances occur to protect both themselves and their employees. Here are some of the changes to these romance policies that have become more common in recent decades.
1. Supervisor and Employee
Even back in SHRM’s 2005 survey, 80% of workplaces prohibited relationships between supervisors and their employees. In 2013, that number had gone up to 99%, and 45% of those companies even expanded the rule to prevent people of highly differing ranks from dating, even if they weren’t directly linked in the chain of command. Not only does this protect the company from a lawsuit if a breakup goes bad, it’s also a way to protect employees from any possible unwanted advances by higher-ups. 33% of companies also now prohibit relationships between two people with the same supervisor, and 12% won’t even allow those in different departments to get involved romantically with one another.
2. Disclosure Requirements
Despite these many concerns and the general increase in workplace romance policies, only 5% of the companies surveyed actually require their employees to sign some kind of contract proving the relationship is consensual and releasing the company from liability. Far more employers simply choose to prohibit the behavior to begin with if they think it will cause an issue. Still, though a ‘love contract’ may not be required, most companies still have either a verbal or written policy requiring that employees disclose the relationship to HR, even if there’s no further formal process around it.
3. Broken Hearts, Broken Policies
When employees break up—or break the romance policy—HR managers and/or employers have to take action. SHRM’s survey showed that 34% of businesses have transferred employees to another department as damage control after a relationship ends. You might be surprised to learn that 32% have sent couples to counseling to resolve the issues. 20% have either formally reprimanded or fired an employee for issues directly related to a breakup with a coworker. 12% of companies had suspended a supervisor for these reasons, while 8% suspended employees.
All these changes to workplace policies might make you think the number of office romances has also gone up, but it has remained much the same, meaning it’s the workplaces that are changing. As companies want to protect themselves from liability and create cultures where everyone feels safe and respected, workplace romance policies do more to protect lower-ranking employees and the company that pays them.