Workplace Romances: What Companies Should Teach Employees

Workplace RomanceCoworkers who share common interests and spend a significant amount of time together may feel an attraction to one another.  Sometimes, romance is inevitable. Most of us have had a workplace relationship at some point in our careers. While they may try, organizations cannot prevent office romances.

Workplace romance can be a huge headache.  Office flings can result in allegations of favoritism, harassment, assault and retaliation. However, the reality is that organizations can’t prevent these relationships from happening.  Therefore, instead of trying to prevent romantic relationships, they should counsel their employees on a professional approach to these relationships.

“Professional romance” may sound like an oxymoron, but employees can learn how to pursue relationships in a professional manner with the right guidance from their organization. A lot of time and money are spent on teaching employees about sexual harassment, yet virtually no effort is made towards counseling employees on how to professionally pursue romance at work. Ignoring these relationships is not working, so organizations should offer guidelines on romance in the office.

Obtaining Consent

What defines consent is the foremost issue.  Many colleges have adopted a “yes means yes” standard requiring affirmative consent for students engaging in sexual activity.  This policy clearly states that silence cannot be interpreted as consent; the consent must be verbal. Organizations should follow the lead of colleges and teach employees that before initiating contact of any kind, they must obtain verbal affirmative consent.

Oftentimes in cases of sexual misconduct, the accused believed the sexual activity was consensual. An organizational policy of affirmative consent would mean they’d have to confirm consent prior to the act.  A failure to affirm consent on either part would mean they’d be breaching company policy, regardless of whether the act was consensual.

Asking A Coworker for A Date

Companies such as Google and Facebook have adapted a “one chance” policy: employees get only one shot at asking a co-worker for date. If an employee gets turned down, they cannot ask again – not in a week, not in a month, not ever. There can be no further pursuit or attempts to “wear down” someone’s resolve. A clear understanding of this policy is an essential part of pursuing professional romantic relationships at work.

Disclosing Relationships

Office romance has traditionally been secretive because workplace romantic relationships are often discouraged or forbidden by the organization. As a result, there is no way to monitor the couple to ensure that special favors, promotions, or pay raises are not given to a lover over a more highly qualified employee. Although encouraging employees to disclose the relationship to human resources may seem counter-intuitive, this policy should be enacted to ensure fairness on all parts, and it should become part of professional relationship training.

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