Workplace Romance

By Jones, Tony L. | Law & Order, August 1999 | Go to article overview

Workplace Romance


Jones, Tony L., Law & Order


Law enforcement positions have traditionally been staffed by males. Until the last decade, females in policing were usually relegated to jobs such as custodians, jail matrons and dispatchers. There was little opportunity for close interaction between the sexes.

As females became more integrated in law enforcement and shared the same professional interests, assignments, functions, etc. it was only natural that the two sexes had an opportunity to become romantically attracted to each other.

What effect does this situation generate, when officers begin to date, live together and/or get married. Furthermore, what happens when the romance involves a supervisor-subordinate relationship? Police administrators must consider the problems of workplace romances.

A big question concerns personal privacy. There are a variety of laws and regulations protecting an individual's privacy so the question arises: When does an officer's private romance become his or her department's business?

This is shaky ground that can only be answered by the department's ability to observe and document workplace romance incidents proven to be detrimental to job performance and department operations. If these circumstances do not exist, the department is generally powerless to control workplace romances. Many departments try for this control by establishing arbitrary rules and regulations that are generally impossible or embarrassing to enforce. Worse, they often become lopsided efforts that damage officer morale.

1. Some of these lopsided rules, regulations and restrictions are:

Married officers will not be allowed to work as partners, assigned to the same duty areas, etc. The problem with this rule is its prejudice; married officers are punished, while dating or otherwise romantically involved officers are not addressed. The message is, it is acceptable to have a romantic relationship but don't "make it legal." Officers may not many for the fear of separation, especially if it involves losing a treasured position or shift.

2. Married officers will be separated on the job because they will overreact, when protecting each other during dangerous situations. But officers should concerned about protecting each other to the highest degree. This observation does not address romantically involved officers or relatives who are co-workers. Who is more prone to over-reaction-officers involved in a "hot" romance or married officers who are mentally satisfied and have nothing to prove?

3. Married officers may have sexual relations on the job. Do married coupies really want to have sexual relations on the job, instead of the privacy of their own home? Surely it is the dating officers or otherwise romantically involved officers who might engage in this activity, who are prone to take advantage of "fleeting" opportunities.

The common problem with all of the aforementioned restrictions is that they regulate married officers and fail to address dating officers, cohabiting officers or otherwise romantically involved officers. Departments should not discriminate against married officers, so rules should be established which apply to all relationships between co-workers.

How can administrators avoid poor "relationship policies." First, departments should have written policies focusing on dating officers and family relationships in order to provide uniform treatment of all officers. This policy, if properly written, should decrease the likelihood of complaints stating discrimination, favoritism or sexual harassment. The policy should be introduced by distributing a written copy to all officers and following up with question and answer sessions. Prospective officers should be advised of this policy prior to being hired.

Second, departments should require employees who are in a close personal relationship to report the relationship if the officers work together or are in a direct chain of command situation. …

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