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Top 3 Legal Tips for Office Romances

By Christopher Coble, Esq. on November 20, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Ah, love at work. Perhaps it's inevitable, given the amount of time we spend in the office. But coworker relationships can give small business owners fits. First of all, there's the sexual harassment concern, especially if one of those employees in the relationship is a manager. Second, what if the relationship goes south? Will it blow up your entire office?

Naturally, many employers are tempted to ban intraoffice relationships entirely. But they may not be all bad. According to Forbes, 14 percent of employees say an office romance increased their happiness at work, and while some reported that the relationship decreased their productivity, about the same amount said the opposite. So some big tech companies have taken a more nuanced approach, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that Facebook and Google limit employees to one opportunity to ask a co-worker out, and apparently "I'm busy" counts as a "no."

So how should your small business handle dating coworkers? Here are three things to consider:

1. 5 Tips for Your 'No Fraternization' Policy

If you are considering a blanket ban on canoodling coworkers, be careful with the implementation. You'll want to make sure you're not punishing already married couples, as some state laws prohibit discrimination based on marital status. You'll want to consider "consensual relationship agreements." And you'll need to come to terms with the fact that only five percent of employees in a relationship with a fellow coworker report that relationship to HR.

2. Six Tips on Sexual Harassment at Work

Not all sexual relationships between coworkers constitutes sexual harassment. But those relationships can increase the risk of a harassment or hostile work environment claim. Relationships between supervisors and subordinates, given the unequal power dynamic, are especially prone to harassment claims. And if an office romance means romantic encounters in the office, other staff may be put off by the public nature of the relationship.

Valentine's Day is right around the corner. So, make sure any office dating policy is in place well in advance, and that all your employees are well-versed in your anti-sexual harassment protocols.

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