Although companies don’t say it when new employees come on board, and it’s awkward for employees’ to ask this during induction, an office relationship is usually a huge no-no. It’s not even against most company policies to date or establish a romantic relationship with coworkers. Companies do, however, insist that such relations be documented and reported to human resource personnel.
As much as it might feel some kind of evil corporate intent behind this, there’s nothing companies have against employees indulging in personal relationships. On the contrary, companies usually have policies designed that protect the interests of the organisation, which includes their employees. This means that companies technically encourage employees and shield them from any legal ramifications.
Of course, when we use the term office relationships, we mean loyal, genuine, and consensual participation of employees. To be clear: Companies don’t endorse post-marital affairs.
Coming back to policies, there are no laws against relationships in the office, and they can get awkward for the people involved and not to mention the other worries that follow.
Here's what you will learn
What are the Policies?
Since there’s not a specific law around workplace relationships, companies usually mention them in their employee handbooks or a code of conduct that employees agree to when joining. The only point of reference for rules going forward will be these documents, and that makes the rules flexible.
As the organization grows, the policies also evolve in accordance with the nature and size of the business, and they get stricter and more comprehensive. Paul Wolfowitz, who was pressured into resigning as president of the World Bank last month in the wake of revelations he had secured a new pay package for bank employee Shaha Riza, who also happened to be his girlfriend. The example goes to show the importance and the consequences of an actionable workplace relationship policy, how organizations need to implement and adapt to these policies.
How Should Policies be Formulated?
A 2017 survey by SHRM revealed that 57% of participants engaged in a romantic relationship at work and of those, 31% ended up marrying their partners. However, according to the same report, only 42% of companies developed and formulated a detailed policy for romance in the workplace.
A company needs to be comprehensive and respectful while offering protection to the business itself and the employees. There are particular situations that must be anticipated even if their chances of occurrence are low and formulate policies around those. Some of the topics that companies must cover are:
Standards of Acceptable Behaviour
One of the most crucial factors is establishing the acceptable standard of behaviour that reinforces professional and decent behaviour among employees. This is not merely to limit interaction but also protects employees from offending one another, which brings us to the next important part of relationship policies: Sexual Harassment at Work. Acceptable behaviour means being respectful of the feelings of the other person or people one talks to.
For example, when trying to build a romantic relationship, especially with someone from the office, one must steer clear of casual or inappropriate comments. In case one feels like creating intimate and casual relationships, the only acceptable behavior in office would be verbal or textual conversations while personal issues should be taken up after hours outside the premises.
Although this is not directly a part of dating rules in company policies, it does exhibit the different perspectives within an office. Be crystal clear on what your intent and objective is with the introduction of sexual harassment policies with employees and how employees can report it. Further, the company must take impartial decisions and treat employees like an actual court of law: innocent until proven guilty. What some people might consider as “healthy flirting,” can be offensive or uncomfortable for others. Barring such actions and making in-depth inquiries in such allegations will help build an environment which is mutually agreed on by all employees.
Relationships between a superior and subordinate in the same department or different departments are the ones to look out for. Such an engagement can have dire consequences and companies need to ask the involved individuals to disclose the relationship. However, this relationship is treated very differently since a superior can have a direct or indirect influence on their partners’ terms and conditions of employment. As such, companies incorporate a responsive policy that carefully examines and analyzes if the relationship affects professional connections and treatment within the office.
So, Companies Are Against Employees Dating Each Other?
Yes and no. Companies allow employees to date each other and have abstract romantic relationships under strict rules of policies. On the other hand, companies support all personal life choices and decisions, but will certainly take rigorous steps if those choices lead to favouritism, partiality, or violation of any company policy.
That being said, a company expresses in their policies the barring of employees dating each other. However, they have several legal consequences companies can get tangled in if they in any way or manner conveys penalties of workplace relationships.