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Should California employers implement policies to ban dating?

When employees work long hours in close quarters, romance is bound to blossom occasionally. Nearly a quarter of employees reported that they are or have been involved in a workplace romance. What role can and should an employer play in mandating what kind of interpersonal relationships employees can have?

An increasing number of companies are implementing policies, verbal or written, regarding romantic relationships between workers. This is often done in an effort to avoid sexual harassment suits, accusations of favoritism if one employee becomes the superior of the other and uncomfortable consequences that can affect the entire workplace if there is a less-than-amicable break-up. Discrimination suits can also result when romantic feelings make their way into the office.

While the number of businesses with policies against employee dating nearly doubled between 2005 and 2013, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 54 percent of companies surveyed had no such policy. Indeed, many companies are caught in the conundrum of not relishing the idea of getting involved in its employees' personal lives, but wanting to avoid litigation. Smaller businesses, which are common here in Southern California, are less likely to have such policies. Employment lawyers can advise businesses on the best option for their workplace.

Many employers still don't feel comfortable mandating whom their workers can and can't date. They have no problem with employees dating, as long as they act professionally in the workplace. Some employers have found a middle ground with "love contracts." Employees stipulate that they are in a relationship and that they will notify their employers if that relationship ends or changes. However, many employees may not want to let their bosses in on their relationship, particularly if it is an extramarital one for one or both of the parties involved.

While sexual harassment often happens to people who have never had a romantic relationship with their harasser, it can also occur after a romantic relationship has ended and even while it is ongoing. Everyone has a right to a work environment free of harassment, regardless of their relationship with the harasser, and the right to take steps to put a stop to it and hold the perpetrator and an employer accountable.

Source: The Press-Enterprise, "WORKPLACE: Romances make some corporations nervous" Jack Katzanek, Feb. 13, 2014

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