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Dating in the Office: What's the Best Policy? editorial staff editorial staff

It's just good business to have an office dating policy in place.

  • No matter what rules you decide to put in place, you should develop an office dating policy for your employees. A dating policy protects both your business and your workers.
  • Rules for dating in the office should depend on the circumstances. In some cases, consensual relationships between colleagues are not problematic, while other scenarios may entail an imbalance of power.
  • Forbidding dating in the office is not always an option. State laws may prevent you from making a no-dating rule for your business.

Employees are still human. They experience emotions, form bonds and develop feelings. Sometimes, this happens in the workplace.

As an employer, you want your workers to get along; you want them to work together and enjoy doing so. But what happens when the lines blur and relationships stretch beyond friendly? You don't want a Grey's Anatomy situation to arise, so you need to have a policy for when this happens.

Importance of an office dating policy

Businesses have a say in whether an office romance can happen within the confines of the organization. You don't necessarily have to ban dating altogether; sometimes the answer to the question of whether workplace romantic relationships are allowed is, "It depends."

"My companies, and my recommendation to others with which I consult, strictly limit relationships, whether dating, married or familial, in certain situations," said David Mair, managing partner and CEO of Soter Healthcare and member of the community.

For instance, Mair said, his company does not permit relationships between any worker and their subordinate. In the age of the #MeToo movement, this couldn't be more prudent.

"We require that employees self-disclose relationships that develop," said Mair. "When possible, we reassign an employee in such a situation to separate the supervisory/oversight relationship. Failure to disclose a relationship has disciplinary consequences."

Without a policy in place, certain issues can come into play if the romance sours. There are also potential problems if there's an imbalance of power between the two individuals. For instance, a manager who dates one of the associates they oversee could be accused of favoritism.

If you have a written policy, an employee's failure to disclose their office relationship is considered a direct violation of that policy. The policy also protects the business from litigation in case the employee is terminated for not disclosing the relationship.

Best practices for implementing an office dating policy

You can look at different templates for inspiration before deciding on a written office dating policy. The Society for Human Resource Management provides a version to give you ideas on what to include in your official policy. Since the subject is delicate, review the document with your legal team before implementation. The policy should set clear parameters on what's acceptable and what's not in regards to dating co-workers. Make sure you include all potential scenarios within the policy, such as how an employee shoud act if they're no longer dating a colleague or if the colleague is promoted. Although you could ask all employees to sign the policy, you can also request the employees who are dating to sign a consensual relationship agreement.

Jason Treu, executive coach and author of Social Wealth (Be Extraordinary LLC, 2014), said that lateral dating typically is not an issue in the workplace. But when two people of different levels form a relationship, you can almost guarantee there will be problems.

That's why, said Treu, both workers "should sign a dating contract that states the senior person isn't involved in any reviews, compensation or decisions on the other person. [There] can be no favoritism of any kind."

However, according to research by Jonathan Sutton for the College of Saint Benedict at Saint John's University, many workers sense a division in their team even when colleagues are laterally dating, as if there's an unspoken competition of "us vs. them."

Shared loyalty is a great asset to any team, but when a member values one worker over the rest, it can do more harm than good. If two workers are romantically involved, they must be considerate of how this dynamic affects their peers, and, as the business owner or manager, you must be aware of any concerns your team has.

Find a way to allow employees to anonymously share their opinions on the matter. If you think the relationship is pitting employees against each other, then address it.

It might seem controlling or even cruel to force employees to discuss their personal lives with you, but there are risks associated with romantic work relationships, such as encouraging unfair advantages, like wage increases, or causing distractions and hindering performance, said Mair.

Is a no-dating policy an option?

Legal counsel is required before enforcing a no-dating policy for your office. In some states, like Oregon, parties can't be forbidden to date if they work for the same employer unless one is a manager. You also have to confirm that you're not violating the employees' rights to privacy.

At the end of the day, you want your company and its workers to be equal priorities. If you're not comfortable with the arrangement and neither are your workers, don't be afraid to set guidelines or simply say no.

Image Credit: Prostock-Studio / Getty Images editorial staff editorial staff Member
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