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Dating in the Workplace: Here's What You Need To Know About Fraternization

Justin O. Walker
Justin O. Walker

Understanding employee fraternization is important for your business. Here's why.

Having a healthy employee dating policy in place to provide a framework for acceptable behavior and to protect the company (and its workforce) against problems is vital, and this policy should form part of your company culture and be understood by everyone on your team.

While most companies might prefer that their employees don't date each other in order to avoid problems in the workplace and the potential risk of things turning nasty if the relationship breaks down, blanket bans on dating colleagues rarely serve any meaningful purpose other than to encourage couples to keep things under the radar if they do find love in the office.

However, having an employee fraternization policy in place within your company or organization can help to provide clarity, guidance, and boundaries for interoffice dating among colleagues, plus it can ensure that relationships don't have a negative impact on the participants themselves, their other colleagues, or the company as a whole.

What is considered employee fraternization in the workplace?

Employee fraternization is defined as a relationship that falls outside of normal work-related interactions and communications, which is usually (but not necessarily) romantic or sexual in nature.

Employee fraternization won't automatically have a deleterious effect on the company or other colleagues that work with the couple in question, but it can be problematic, particularly if there is an innate imbalance of power between the participants, such as if a supervisor dates a subordinate.

Additionally, inappropriate workplace behavior, lost productivity, the knock-on effect on other team members and acrimonious breakups are always a concern for employers when colleagues date or fall in love, but having an employee fraternization policy in place for your business or organization can help to avoid all of these things. 

Facts and figures about employee fraternization

Workplace fraternization is very common all across the United States, and, of course, a large number of people reading this article may have met their significant other in the workplace – or have had a relationship with a colleague in the past.

It is only natural that people who work together get to know each other very well and find common interests over the time that they spend together on the job, which can lead to the potential for romance.

How common is employee fraternization in the U.S.? Surveys conducted by online job site and various HR professionals indicate that

  • Approximately 40 to 55 percent of married employees met their spouses through work.
  • 57 percent of respondents stated they are having or have had a personal relationship with a colleague.
  • 59 percent of men and 54 percent of women surveyed have taken part in an office romance.
  • On the flip side, 41 percent of both male and female respondents have actively avoided getting romantically involved with a colleague at some point.
  • 36 percent of office romances occur between colleagues who work in the same department or in close quarters, and 26 percent of workplace relationships begin with office parties or other work-related social events. 

Five tips for establishing a healthy employee dating policy

Establishing a blanket ban on employee fraternization is highly unlikely to prove effective – after all, you cannot police who your employees fall in love (or lust) with. Attempting to do so will likely do little to prevent employees dating and having relationships but will almost certainly lead to them keeping their relationships secret for fear of losing their jobs or otherwise being penalized.

However, having a healthy employee dating policy in place to provide a framework for acceptable behavior and to protect the company (and its workforce) against problems is vital, and this policy should form part of your company culture and be understood by everyone on your team, from the most junior employees to the highest levels of executive management.

Here are five tips for executing a healthy, functional employee fraternization and dating policy:

  1. Establish a clear and fair employee dating policy and mandate it as part of your company's employee fraternization framework. Ensure that all employees are aware of the policy and know where to go to find out more about the rules.

  2. Educate your employees – including supervisors and managers – on your company's sexual harassment policy. Ensure your team understands the difference between sexual harassment and consensual romantic relationships, and the line between the two.

  3. Provide training for supervisors and managers on how to handle employee dating in the workplace.

  4. Encourage a culture of transparency for employee relationships in order to eliminate gossip and mitigate the potential impact of two employees dating. Encourage couples to come forward and inform the appropriate person in their chain of command or HR department about their relationship without fear of penalty.

  5. Make the process for the reporting of inappropriate activities in the workplace – such as sexual harassment, problems between participants in a relationship, and any issues that one couple's relationship may cause for other team members – simple and accessible. 

Where to get professional advice on employee fraternization

If you need help establishing or actioning an employee fraternization and dating policy for your company, or if you require advice on how to handle employee relationships (and how to prevent any problems that might arise as a result of them), contact an HR professional or a specialist employment law attorney.

Image Credit: Puwadon Sang-ngern/Shutterstock
Justin O. Walker
Justin O. Walker Member
Justin Walker of Walker Law is a top-tier employment law and business litigation attorney located in downtown San Diego. His knowledge, expertise and commitment to every case are what set Justin apart from the crowd.