It starts with a glance, a compliment, a smile. Flirting over the water cooler leads to lunches, provocative e-mails and before long, you're in the middle of a hot romance. Or perhaps two of your employees are dancing with Cupid.
Before you turn a blind eye and ignore the lovebirds – or before you indulge in dating an employee or subordinate yourself - remember these three guidelines to stay out of trouble:
- It's hard to enforce a no-dating policy – but a clearly written policy in an employee manual can shield you from future legal snafus.
- Understand the difference between giving compliments and harassing someone.
- Tread carefully, as sexual harassment complaints in small companies are on the rise
Know what the law says about sexual harassment
Sexual harassment is not just about undesired glances, comments or advances. A court ruling in California, for example, allows employees to sue for sexual harassment if they can prove the boss had an affair with someone he or she promoted.
Write a clear policy on office romance
While you can't legislate love, you can spell out what's acceptable at your workplace and what isn't. Your corporate culture, industry and your supervisory judgment will determine if you need to develop a fraternization policy. If you do, publish it and show it to new employees as part of their orientation.
Employ common sense in office behavior
Iron-clad rule: Managers shouldn't get romantically involved with those they supervise. Others will see this as a conflict of interest, and ultimately, it can hurt the firm.
Consider an Employee Assistance Program (EAP)
Most romantic office trysts end – and some end messily. Help your employees cope with confidential, free counseling through your company's EAP.
Find out what others think about romance in the workplace
Office romance is high-risk, but few human resource professionals and employees think it should be banned.