With Valentine's Day just around the corner and every drugstore
exuding red hearts and candy, it's a highly appropriate time of year
to discuss romance on the job.
Ahh, office romance. The very sound of the term makes the pulse
quicken, the heart race and the imagination soar.
Whether the relationship is open and known or secretive and
confidential, there is no doubt that office romances permeate nearly
all workplaces. Many employees, over the years, have met their
spouse at work and there is simply no denying that when men and
women work in close proximity to one another the opportunity for
love or lust will present itself.
What should be your company's policy on office romances? What
should be your personal policy on workplace relationships? How do
soured love affairs turn into sexual harassment lawsuits?
In the next few weeks, this column will examine these issues
which, in recent years, have swamped the headlines, the courts and
many individual lives.
Anyone who has casually glanced at a newspaper in recent years is
aware of the furor over sexual harassment. Recent Supreme Court
cases have made it clear organizations must not permit harassment to
take place on the job and employers must take the initiative to
correct problems if and when they arrive. Simply stated, what used
to be viewed as joking, bantering or flirting in the workplace is
often the precursor to a sexual harassment complaint and companies
must be ever vigilant to keep this problem in check.
Consensual romances in the workplace do not fall within the
definition of sexual harassment, since the courts say sexual
harassment is "unwelcome" behavior. But even "welcome" behavior can
plant the seeds of sexual harassment. Every office romance has the
potential to fall apart and, once it does, behavior that was once
welcomed -- and even encouraged -- can become fodder for the cannon
of sexual harassment.
That's why individuals should avoid office romances and that's
why organizations should discourage them whenever possible.
I know it sounds dull. I recognize it's no fun. But wouldn't you
rather have less fun and fewer lawsuits? Wouldn't you rather be
known as "dull" rather than "defendant"?
Office romances, even under the best of circumstances, create an
awkward environment. Claims of preferential treatment arise.
Unavoidable disagreements between lovers spill over into the
workplace. Conflicting loyalties will be tested.
Office romances create problems in the workplace that need not
exist and since (in theory) workers should be focusing on work while
they're working, office romances inevitably get in the way of