Romance in the Workplace: Challenges for Employers

Many employers discourage any kind of workplace romance, and when it does happen, it can be a real challenge to deal with it.

But let’s face it, we are all human beings, and as Sela Gomez might put it, “the heart wants what it wants.” That’s the tricky thing when it comes to workplace romances.

They can cause many problems and headaches for employers. Most leaders believe that technically as an employer or manager they can’t interfere in office romances and fire someone.

Not true.

Not all office romances are made equal, though.

Take, for instance, a situation where two colleagues are both computer programmers, and they like each other and start dating.

Easy enough.

Now take the scenario of one computer programmer dating their boss.

You can probably see the potential problems here….

Anyways, let’s take a look at the challenges these types of romantic relationships can pose and what things employers can do about it:

Accusations of Favoritism

When one employee in a romantic relationship supervises the other, accusations of favoritism from colleagues can arise if they become or suspect a romantic relationship.

Sometimes this favoritism is real; other times, it is imagined.

Accusations of Harassment

When a workplace relationship goes south, it can easily lead to a situation where one co-worker accuses the other of harassment, or another colleague observes the former romantic couple having a fight and reports it.

And again, in this case, the harassment can be real or imagined.

For the employer, however, the headache is real.

Accusations can turn into formal complaints, which can then turn into lawsuits.

There are also potential problems with “conflicts of interest,” or the potential of the employer being accused of fostering an unhealthy work environment.

So what are the solutions?

Here are some potential options:

Create a Policy on Romantic Relationships in the Workplace

You could create a policy that does permit dating in the workplace but forbids relationships where there is a power dynamic involved, such as a manager and direct report, or where there is a conflict of interest where the relationship creates a monetary benefit for one of the two parties involved.

Create a Robust Anti-Harassment Policy

Create a comprehensive policy on harassment and make sure that it is reviewed with employees and managers annually, but also enforced when situations arise.

Review the Harassment Policy with Employees Who Are Romantically Involved

When you become aware of a romantic relationship in the workplace, sit both parties down together and review (in detail) the harassment policy.

This can be enough to let the two employees know of the seriousness of the situation, should a harassment scenario arise, and mitigate against any future conflict.

Set and communication your expectations of behavior from the employees.

It is perfectly ok to establish a boundary and inform them that you expect professional behavior at all times, and their relationship to never become a distraction in the workplace.

In a survey commissioned by the Society of Human Resources, more than half of those surveyed admitted to having romantic feelings for a colleague, while a quarter of people surveyed actually asked another co-worker out.

Let’s face it; we’re all human.

Workplace romances will happen and depending on the employees' maturity level, it can be difficult for employers to manage but not impossible.

Brenda is an international award-winning HR pro who helps HR Champs & business leaders solve difficult people issues. Featured in Forbes, she is an HR mentor.