A large part of this may have to do with our media culture, and namely, the non-cholent manner in which TV shows and movies often portray office romances as an exciting, romantic, or even conventional occurrence. As a result of these changing times, employers need to be able to deal with the realities of such relationships between its employees, and the legalities and risks that could be associated with them.
In short, there really are no hard and fast rules when it comes to inter-office relationships, and it could very well depend on the specific workplace you find yourself in. In fact, office relationships between consenting colleagues are not illegal, and we do not have any laws saying that employees cannot date one another.
However, employers in Ontario do have a legal obligation to ensure their workplaces are discrimination and harassment-free, which is enough of a reason for employers to be very apprehensive of condoning any form of inter-office dating. The most serious liability employers face when inter-office romances turn astray are discrimination and sexual harassment claims. Our courts have construed almost any unwelcome sexualized conduct as a form of sexual harassment, and only a fine line may exist between a workplace flirtation and harassment.
Ensuring that the relationship is consensual is what of upmost importance. Understandably, being able to determine whether a relationship between a superior and a subordinate is truly consensual in nature is not an easy task given the power imbalance between the individuals. Simply relying upon anti-discrimination and harassment policies may not be enough when considering the serious legal liabilities employers could face when these relationships come to the forefront.
Accordingly, employers are taking it upon themselves to implement and enforce workplace dating policies. Aside from the risks of discrimination and sexual harassment complaints, other reasons why it makes sense for an employer to have a workplace dating policy in place include wanting to protect its business reputation; ensure productivity is not affected; and to protect employee morale i.
Technically yes, and an employer may think this is the easiest way to protect itself from potential legal liabilities. However, this option seems archaic. It could ultimately lead to an employer having to lose star employees who are faced with the decision of choosing love over continued employment — in the end, it could end up costing the employer money. Further, a complete ban on workplace dating may deter employees from coming forward to disclose a non-consensual relationship out of fear of losing their job.
A more common approach is for employers to have workplace dating policies that prevent intimate relationships between a superior and subordinate especially in the same department , or ones that could create a conflict of interest. As a business owner, you might ask: The legal issue is what I like to call the "amplification" of potential liability that always exists around the employer-employee relationship. There will foreseeably be claims of favoritism, or even discrimination or harassment.
When a workplace romance sours, it can expose the company to increased liability, since the connection between alleged actors is easier to establish--essentially giving the plaintiff some good ammunition for his or her case. Relationships between supervisors and subordinates create even more potential problems.
Relationships in the Workplace | Policies | Human Resources | Vanderbilt University
In a better scenario, coworkers would find it easier to claim that an employee received preferential treatment from a supervisor he or she is dating. In a poorer scenario, the relationship would end badly, one of the employees could claim that the relationship was non-consensual, or that sexual harassment existed. An employee could even make a case for unlawful retaliation if he or she receives a poor performance review from a former lover or if a co-worker receives a better evaluation from his or her boss. There are a few different ways to manage this liability.
When it comes to workplace dating policies, here are a few basic options:. Generally, policies cover not only employees, but also contractors, vendors, suppliers, manufacturers, and the like. Essentially, any relationship between two people that could have a negative effect on the company if things sour, or if one party is able to improperly influence the other would fall under the policy. One last generally acceptable rule: Even if it does not violate a written policy, your boss the CEO or the board might not care, and view it as a lack of senior management acumen.
I tend to sound like a broken record when it comes to company policies. So here it goes again: In my opinion, failure to equitably enforce a corporate policy is often worse than not having one. When it comes to workplace dating policies, here are a few basic options: You can do nothing.
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