December 5, 2022

Small Business Advice

Office Romances

Jerry Osteryoung | 3/10/2008

Romance has been elegantly defined as the offspring of fiction and love.
— Benjamin Disraeli

Office romances are something that every organization must have a plan for.

According to Careerbuilder.com, 43% of all employees have dated a co-worker, and of these employees, 34% have gotten married. Dating in the workplace is inevitable as employees spend so much of their time at work. While all of our jobs would be easier if these romances did not happen, they are unavoidable, and we must have a plan to deal with them. While a “no dating” policy would be great, it is neither feasible nor fair.

It would be so easy to ignore this type of behavior, but the risks are just too high. When it comes to managers and employees, the situation becomes particularly dangerous. For instance, if a manager were to ask one of their employees out for a date, the employee might feel that they were harassed into accepting. Clearly, it should be against company policy for a manager to be romantically involved with one of their employees. This needs to be spelled out very clearly in the company’s employee manual.

Additionally, whenever a superior flirts or asks out a lower level employee (that does not directly report to them), there is always a chance that the employee will fear some kind of consequence if they do not accept the offer or respond back with the flirtation. It also reflects poorly on the judgment of the superior.

In 2005, the CEO of Boeing, Harry Stonecipher, was asked to resign from his position as a result of his relationship with an employee. The employee did not directly report to Stonecipher, but Boeing’s Board said that he demonstrated questionable judgment, and that the relationship was against Boeing’s Code of Conduct. In late 2007, Mark Everson, CEO of the American Red Cross, was forced to resign for having an affair with a married woman that worked for the company. This Board also said this behavior reflected badly on his judgment.

At the beginning, office romances appear wonderful, and everyone is excited; however when they end, things can turn very ugly and often result in a harassment suit. Additionally, it frequently requires moving the two parties away from one another.

Some firm’s have the policy that when two employees, regardless of status, are found to be dating, they are each called into the human resources office. Each employee is required to sign off on the “no harassment” policy (again) and they are told that, at any point, they both may come forward and complain if they experience any inappropriate or unwanted behavior.

One of the most difficult types of romances to deal with is when the romancing couple is married to different people. For so many reasons, this type of behavior must not be tolerated, and this should be clearly spelled out in the fraternization policy.

It is so important for every company to have both a harassment policy and a fraternization policy in place. One way to help get a fraternization policy in place is to invite employee input during the drafting process. Additionally, it is critical that your labor attorney go over this policy.

Now go out and make sure that you have a fraternization policy, an education policy and procedures in place to deal with office romances. This problem is just too big to ignore.

You can do this!

Jerry Osteryoung is the Jim Moran Professor of Entrepreneurship in the College of Business at Florida State University. He is also the Director of the Entrepreneurship Program at FSU and Executive Director of the Jim Moran Institute of Global Entrepreneurship. He can be reached by e-mail at jostery@comcast.net or by phone at 850-644-3372.

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