The dating or fraternization policy adopted by an organization reflects the culture of the organization. Employee-oriented, forward-thinking workplaces recognize that one of the places where employees meet their eventual spouse or partner is at work.
Workplace Romance in the #metoo Era
Workplace relationships make sense because of the commonalities co-workers share—such as proximity to work, the actual work, the amount of time one spends at work, and the interests underlying one's career choice.
Friendships and romances can also affect the workplace positively, adding to the sense of teamwork and camaraderie. But, relationships can also go awry and result in friction and conflict at work. This can affect the team, the department, and even the mood of the organization when stress permeates the air.
In the #metoo era, which took off on social media starting in 2017, heightened awareness of boundaries and the difference between harmless flirting and sexual harassment make workplace dating policies critically important. Waves of executives in positions of authority across all industries (most of them men) have lost their jobs in the wake of a vocal outcry against using power to extract sexual favors from male and female underlings.
The key to a fraternization policy is to minimize the impact of the things that can go wrong in the workplace while maximizing the powerfully positive aspects of employee relationships. You also want to identify relationships that are forbidden because of their potential impact at work.
As with any policy, you should develop the policy for the good of the working relationships in a whole group of employees. Don't put a policy in place to control the behavior of a few employees whose behavior is out of line.
It's worth noting that the consequence of a too-restrictive policy is that fraternization policies that prohibit even friendships and associations outside of work cause employees to deceive and cover-up. They also encourage gossip, job dissatisfaction, and low morale.
Contents of Fraternization Policies
A fraternization policy needs to have multiple components. It must:
- Prohibit romantic relationships between a manager and a reporting staff member.
- Prohibit dating relationships between employees who are separated by two levels in the chain of command, regardless of the reporting relationship or department.
- Define the romantic and friendly behavior that is acceptable and what is not acceptable.
- State the potential consequences of breaking the policy.
- Provide courses of action that leave an employee with opportunities to understand and follow the policy.
Sample Dating or Fraternization Policy
The following is a sample of a dating or fraternizing policy that you can use as-is or alter to fit your needs:
- Company employees may date and develop friendships and relationships with other employees—both inside and outside of the workplace—as long as the relationships don't have a negative impact on their work or the work of others.
- Any relationship that interferes with the company culture of teamwork, the harmonious work environment, or the productivity of employees, will be addressed by applying the progressive discipline policy up to and including employment termination.
- Adverse workplace behavior—or behavior that affects the workplace that arises because of personal relationships—will not be tolerated.
- Anyone employed in a managerial or supervisory role needs to heed the fact that personal relationships with employees who report to them may be perceived as favoritism, misuse of authority, or potentially, sexual harassment and consequently, they are unacceptable.
- For the same reason, no employee may date another employee who is separated by more than one level in the chain of command. This includes an employee who reports to their boss's counterpart in another department.
- Additionally, any fraternization is prohibited with any employee who reports to the manager or whose terms and conditions of employment—such as pay raises, promotions, and advancement—are potentially affected by the manager.
- The fraternization that is prohibited by this policy includes dating, romantic involvement, and sexual relations; close friendships are discouraged in any reporting relationship.
- Employees who disregard this policy will receive disciplinary actions up to and including employment termination.
Language on Consequences of Dating and Affairs
A manager or supervisor who dates or becomes romantically involved with an employee creates a serious problem for the company. Dating an employee, and extramarital affairs, even when the employee is not in a reporting relationship, creates serious consequences for the company. It can affect the careers of both employees with regard to advancement opportunities, choices of jobs, and assignments. Clearly, these relationships can result in charges of sexual harassment, years or decades after the fact.
If a manager decides to pursue a close relationship with an employee, they need to inform their manager and Human Resources immediately. The company will then decide what, if any, actions are necessary to take in regard to assignments and jobs.
Employees have different definitions and understandings of what constitutes a close relationship, a friendship, or romantic involvement. Consequently, if you have questions or need further clarification, talk with the head of the Human Resources department. Their goal of implementing policies consistently and fairly will help inform your choices.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own state’s laws or the most recent changes to the law. For current legal advice, please consult with an accountant or an attorney.