from experts in the field:
David B. Ritter chairs Chicago-based Neal, Gerber &
Eisenberg’s Labor & Employment Practice Group and is a
member of the Life Sciences Practice Group. He represents
management in all areas of labor and employment law.
JANUARY DEBATE RESULTS:
Is there intelligent life
elsewhere in the universe?
WITH STATISTICS SHOWING that nearly 40 percent of workers
have dated a co-worker, it’s naive to think that office romances can be
stopped; even if a company were to implement a no-dating policy, it is
nearly impossible to manage or enforce such a policy. A “love contract”
may just be the best tool around to manage such situations.
When two co-workers embark on a romantic relationship, potential problems abound—
particularly if the relationship is between a subordinate and a supervisor or between two
high-level executives. Other employees may sense that the subordinate is receiving better job
assignments, performance reviews or other favorable treatment because of the relationship.
And if the relationship goes sour, the former lovers may quarrel or lash out at each other at
work—or take it out on the company through claims of sexual harassment.
Percentage reflects votes
received by January 13, 2009.
While a love contract cannot guarantee complete insulation from the potential pitfalls
of an office romance, it can certainly help. If an employer learns of an office relationship, it
should consider having the employees sign a love contract.
A love contract is not legally binding. Rather, it is simply an acknowledgment by two people that they are in a consensual relationship, that they understand their employer’s policy on
sexual harassment and that they are expected to follow certain workplace guidelines designed
to discourage disruption in the workplace. It also indicates that the employees should contact
the company if they feel harassed or retaliated against as a result of a relationship gone bad.
DECEMBER DEBATE RESULTS:
Should 21 be the legal
YES: 46% NO: 54%
Percentage reflects votes received by
December 31, 2008. Results may reflect
Debate being picked up by blogs.
If either one of the employees in the relationship fails to conduct him- or herself in accordance with the company’s sexual harassment policy or workplace guidelines, the love contract
can come in handy. Further, if, upon a breakup, one employee attempts to claim that the
relationship was not consensual or that he or she was sexually harassed by the other, the love
contract is powerful evidence to the contrary.
While a love contract cannot prohibit employees from filing future claims, it can certainly
help employers defend themselves. C
from experts in the field:
Francie Dalton is founder of Dalton Alliances Inc., a Maryland-based behavioral, management and communications sciences
business consultancy (
LET’S BE CLEAR. A “love contract” exists solely to protect an employer
from litigation associated with bosses who engage in sexual relations
with their employees. Only those who are so engaged would claim that
the impact on business can be minimized. These would be the same
folks who believe that they can actually succeed in hiding their relation-
ship, or who, once “outed,” believe they can succeed at carefully avoiding perceptions of favor-
itism. It’s not just their stunning naiveté that is disturbingly adolescent. The parties involved
in an office romance share additional traits typically attendant to adolescence: a degree of self-
absorption that blinds them to the needs of others; a degree of self-deception that convinces
them their relationship can progress with impunity; and an inflated degree of imperviousness
that makes them believe their own reputation won’t be tainted by the relationship.
As for the love contracts themselves, at worst they are impotent in warding off allegations
of sexual harassment. At best, they prevent such suits from ever being filed. But such contracts
don’t reduce the various non-legal risks organizations face as a result of office romances.
These risks include, without limitation, productivity losses, increased scrutiny on, for example,
expense reports that involve travel, and suboptimal decision making.
At issue here is whether an organization should invite a host of organizational vulner-abilities so as not to impede an office romance. That it may happen anyway is not sufficient
to negate the need for clear policy. Such a policy, at a minimum, should require managers
and above to agree that if they become romantically involved with an employee, ( 1) the
relationship will be disclosed; ( 2) confidential business matters will not be disclosed between
the parties; and ( 3) the higher-ranking of the two parties will either accept a transfer to a
different location or a position without managerial responsibility, or find other employment
within x number of weeks.
I’m not suggesting that the organizational response to office romance be punitive or
abusive, but that the organization has a fiduciary responsibility to the greater good. This isn’t
being hard-hearted—it’s acting responsibly to avoid ill-advised risk. C
Opinions expressed are those of the
individuals or organizations represented
and are presented to foster discussion.
Costco and The Costco Connection take
no position on any Debate topic.