A recent survey reveals that nearly 40 percent of U.S. workers have dated a fellow employee, and that another 40 percent would consider doing so. Inevitably, notes the author, most workplace relationships end and some end badly enough to result in lawsuits involving claims of coercion or retaliation. Even employees uninvolved in a romance have succeeded in establishing hostile work environment discrimination based on favoritism.
In response to this situation many companies have implemented nonfraternization policies designed to prevent or discourage workplace romances. Unfortunately, the author finds that most companies with such policies do a poor job communicating their expectations. The issue is colored by the fact that employers generally prefer not to chaperone their employees. Employees, on the other hand, view employer monitoring of their personal relationships as an invasion of privacy. More importantly, notes the author, research shows that outright dating bans simply don’t work.
This article finds that many companies have responded to this situation by developing “Employee Relationship Acknowledgements,” so-called “love contracts.” When properly implemented, these serve as a powerful deterrent to employee litigation. The author provides readers with the essential elements of an effective love contract which states, among other things, that the relationship is consensual, that both parties understand the company’s policy against harassment and favoritism, that they will act appropriately in the workplace, and that either may end the relationship at any time with no retaliation.
The real strength of a love contract is that it shows that the employer took affirmative steps to keep the workplace free from sexual harassment and retaliation, that the relationship was consensual, and that both employees were aware of the company’s policies against harassment, discrimination and retaliation.
The article touches on a number of related considerations such as state privacy laws that may prohibit employer monitoring of workplace relationships and what to do if one or both parties deny the relationship or refuse to sign the document.