Romance is in the air at work. What’s your policy say about that?
Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Posted by: Trichina Pierce, CCUL Compliance
In the rise of the #metoo movement, a collective discussion continues around understanding sexual harassment in and out of the workplace. The important topic has led organizations to get on their Ps & Qs when it comes to laying out and enforcing clear, no tolerance anti-harassment policies. But as we celebrate Valentine’s Day this week, I’m left wondering: ‘How are consensual workplace relationships managed?’
Romance may be in the air, but does that spell trouble for your organization?
In a recent article on “love contracts” also known as love policies by Nexsen Pruet Attorney Ashley Richardson Pharr, two important statistics caught my eye:
- According to a 2017 survey by CareerBuilder, 41 percent of employees said they had dated a work colleague within the prior year; and
- Another study by the University of Chicago revealed that nearly 22 percent of U.S. married couples met at work.
In light of these statistics, it seems reasonable to conclude there’s a chance not all workplace relationships will have a happy ending or lead to a wedding, and those that don’t could lead to HR nightmares such as litigation, harassment claims or moral conflicts.
So, what should your credit union do when workplace relationships arise?
According to Pharr, employers have 3 basic policy options in order to avoid legal headaches:
1. In addition to maintaining general policies prohibiting sexual harassment, employers may choose to implement policies outlining permissible and prohibited conduct concerning dating among co-workers. Companies often prohibit relationships between employees in supervisory/subordinate roles, given the inherent issues that arise. Other companies disallow relationships between employees and clients/vendors.
2. Another option is to require employees to inform management of workplace relationships. Regardless of the specifics, such policies should reference the company's anti-harassment policy and remind employees how to report unwanted conduct.
3. Lastly, employers must be diligent in making sure that the policies are enforced fairly and without a disparate impact.
A second line of defense to consider as well is implementing “love polices,” Pharr notes.
She goes on to say, “in essence, a love contract is a written employee consent regarding workplace relationship conduct, and constitutes an individualized non-harassment policy.” Love contracts can serve to remind employees of the conduct that is appropriate in the workplace. They also allow employees to acknowledge that a relationship is consensual, and offer self-serving protections to an employer from future sexual harassment or related claims.
Additionally, Pharr suggests for companies with policies outlining the permissible parameters for workplace relationships, those policies often determine the scope of a love contract. Regardless, the love contract typically contains:
- A restatement of the company’s anti-harassment policy
- An acknowledgement of the employees’ commitment to comply with the anti-harassment policy
- Affirmation that the relationship is voluntary, consensual and welcome
- An agreement to not engage in public displays of affection
- Agreement that there will be no negative impact on work due to the relationship
- A commitment to maintain professionalism even after the relationship ends
- A commitment to inform company of “unwelcomeness” of advances
One thing to remember is no policy is a cure all but risk mitigation in this day and age is a must for credit unions of all sizes. However, love contracts can come with their own set of challenges from a business stand point such as having to monitor relationships which most people do not want to do. Pharr recognizes this is an uncomfortable issue but notes that it doesn’t make the concept useless.
“If nothing else a signed love contract may help maintain a functional office environment in the event that a relationship ends badly," says Pharr.
She concludes the article with what I believe to be the best advice: set expectations, specific guidelines and communicate them effectively BEFORE a relationship begins. And regardless of the taken approach, employers must be sure to treat all employees consistently.
The League is always here to help should you need an HR policy review, risk assessment or related assistance. Contact CCUL Compliance at firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
What are your thoughts on this idea? Does your credit union have a love policy? Share your comment below.
Source: Love Contracts and Policies on Office Romance: What Can an Employer Do if Love is in the Air? (Nexsen | Pruet)
Disclaimer: Views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and should not be taken as legal advice, nor does this article entitle the reader to any services. The information contained herein is merely to provide League members with useful compliance information and serve as a reference for your own research. Although care has been taken to provide accurate information, the League is not engaged in rendering legal or tax advice. Credit unions are encouraged to seek appropriate qualified legal counsel for legal advice.