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Office romances are the stuff of TV shows, but they are also very much a part of real life on the job. While some office affairs end happily, others could open a world of hurt for the partners, their co-workers and the company itself. Every company should have written policies on how employees must conduct themselves, and those polices should address workplace dating and affairs.
A company policy on employee dating protects employers and employees alike from charges of favoritism, discrimination and sexual harassment. The company can take a tough stand by outlawing co-worker dating altogether; it can specifically prohibit relationships between a manager and subordinates; or it can ask for a “love contract” – an official disclosure of any consensual relationship. The policy must spell out what is, or is not, acceptable behavior and list potential penalties for violations. With your fraternization policy in place, your human resources department or other authorized personnel will have a leg to stand on while investigating a workplace affair.
Whether your investigation is triggered by an employee complaint or by your own observations, follow up immediately. If possible, choose an objective, disinterested party from human resources or another department to serve as a fact-finder who will interview the office Romeo and Juliet and any other concerned colleagues.
Adulterous relationships and affairs between a boss and a subordinate are two particularly toxic office hookups. When the adulterous affair becomes known, the problems at home could show up at work, and tensions between ex-lovers at work will cast gloom throughout the office. If the affair is between a supervisor and a subordinate, others will suspect favoritism, causing resentment and affecting their morale. More importantly, the investigator must determine whether the relationship was truly entered into freely by both partners or whether coercion was involved.
If the investigation confirms that a sexual affair is happening in violation of company policy, the company must take appropriate action according to the rules that the policy dictates. In some cases, transferring one or both of the employees to different departments could help. If the relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate, the investigator should pursue the inquiry further to look for anything inappropriate, such as the subordinate being coerced or the supervisor granting job perks in return for sexual favors.
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As a long-time newspaper reporter and staff writer, Kay Bosworth covered real estate development and business for publications in northern New Jersey. Her extensive career included serving as editor of a business education magazine for the McGraw-Hill Book Company. The Kentucky native earned a BA from Transylvania University in Lexington.