Whether HR knows about it or not, romantic relationships happen in the workplace. According to a Vault.com annual office romance survey, more than half of American professionals say they have participated in an office romance. Of those who have dated a coworker, 16% married.
In my days in the hospitality industry, I saw couples live happily ever after and others … well, let’s say, not so happily ever after. Let’s face it, if 62% of the workers in the hospitality and tourism industry say they’ve had a romantic relationship with a coworker, 46% didn’t live happily ever after according to my math.
If two employees tell you that they are dating, first express your appreciation they came forward to let you know of their workplace romance and of course, be happy for them! Follow your handbook policies. If you allow dating in the workplace, review your organizations’ workplace harassment policy and remind them that as long as the relationship is consensual, it aligns with your policy. Remind them there is no need for public displays of their affection while at work. Most importantly, remind them that if one party decides they no longer want to be in the relationship, the courting must stop, otherwise it may by perceived as workplace sexual harassment. You may also want to have individual conversations with each person to make sure it is consensual and there is not a more serious situation occurring.
When the couple doesn’t notify HR, but HR hears of the romance through-the-grapevine, does HR have the same responsibility as if the couple came forward? Yes, talk to the individuals using the same framework as above.
If there happens to be an internal conflict of interest – supervisor and direct report – you may need to ask one of the individuals to transfer to another department or position, that is, if you are a big enough organization. Otherwise, one of the individuals may need to leave the organization to eliminate the conflict. It is best to have a written policy addressing this.
Executives and others in sales or key relationship building roles may also want to consider how professional partnerships may create a conflict of interest, actual or perceived. Most recently, the CEO of REI was asked to step down because he did not disclose his romantic relationship with a leader of another organization in the outdoor industry.
Bottom line…if you are going to date in the workplace, tell HR or your supervisor, avoid PDA in the workplace, and, if one person wants to end the relationship, you must end it. If the relationship ends well, it’s easy to continue the relationship as coworkers. If it doesn’t, the tension will spill into the workplace and coworkers will feel the tension, and so may your former sweetheart.
Remember, we are handling matters of the heart. Be kind. Be respectful. It takes courage to show love. If you need help navigating a workplace romance or drafting a policy, reach out to the Lake Effect HR & Law team.