February – the “love” month! Red roses, chocolate candy, and….broken hearts? (Somebody say, “ouch”!) While certainly love (and consequently, broken hearts) happen in life, it becomes particularly awkward and challenging when it occurs in the workplace. The rumors of “who’s dating who” in the workplace can be a hot topic. And an equally hot mess if you don’t have some type of policy in place around fraternization.
What is a fraternization policy?
It’s a dating policy, or an office romance policy to keep it simple. It outlines what is acceptable, or not acceptable – what’s appropriate, or not appropriate in terms of workplace relationships. This is really important to outline as a company. And the sooner you do that as a small business as you continue to grow the better. Why? Because once you lay that foundation – just like with any other policy or workplace rule, once that policy is in place it is much easier for employees to adapt to it from the beginning as opposed to having to backtrack and implement this kind of policy after the fact when things could already be going on. Being as proactive as possible is usually a step in the right direction.
What does it need to include?
A dating policy needs to address several things. First, it should address what your company determines as inappropriate behaviors. Are you ok with PDA (and no, I’m not referring to the phones we used to carry around in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.) But what I am referring to is employees in the workplace showing affection during the course of their workday? Holding hands, touching, winking, kissing – you get my point. Clearly, that can be uncomfortable for many to deal with. So a solid policy will address that. It will also address what employees need to do in the event they do engage in an workplace relationship. Does that include reporting it only, resigning from the position or something else? It’s up to the individual company, but by outlining the protocol, everyone is aware of what needs to take place if they are going to engage in a workplace relationship. Lastly, it needs to include the repercussions for not following the policy. Do both employees receive a write up, or is it more severe than that? Again, at the end of the day, it depends on the workplace culture you want to set, but whatever is decided, it needs to be followed through, and followed through consistently.
Why do you need it?
It is really important to have something in place sooner than later, because in best case scenarios, it could be the catalyst behind some very awkward workplace scenarios. People who are in relationships argue and fight. Do you want that in your office? Do you want that at a meeting? Do you want that kind of tension around other employees in the office? My guess is probably not. More serious than that is that it could be the catalyst behind sexual harassment claims, especially if the relationship goes sour. Your dating policy, or lack thereof, can also be a reflection of the corporate culture you want to promote. Are you ok with having that kind of corporate culture? If you are, then you are. But you should be aware of the consequences that may accompany that. Lastly, you need it because you could lose a valuable employee (or employees – plural) as a result of not having some type of a policy and setting some type parameters around workplace relationships.
Case in point from the Harvard Business Review is the case of Elizabeth and Brad (and ultimately, Claudia – hmmm). Read more about this case study here.
The light in HR darkness
Does having a dating policy mean that relationships won’t happen in the workplace? Not necessarily. They very well may still happen. However, with a solid workplace policy in place, somebody would have likely been responsible for going to their supervisor and disclosing the relationship. If someone is not serious about the relationship, it’s almost a guarantee that the relationship will fizzle under uncertainty of its legitimacy if one party is unwilling to disclose it to management. And that’s just one aspect. These scenarios can go much, including not only sexual harassment, but workplace violence or violence as a result of a workplace affair gone wrong.
Should you have a policy? ABSOLUTELY. What you want that policy to include is up to you. However, there should be something in place so that employees are clear about the expectations and what they are responsible for doing in this scenario.
Do you need assistance with getting a dating policy in place? Are you certain your other policies are protecting you and your employees appropriately? If you are unsure, stop wondering and schedule your Company Policy Review. And don’t forget to subscribe to the podcast.