Danny Zuko and Sandy Olsen of the box office musical hit, Grease, teach us that summer lovin’ may happen so fast. But if, unlike these high school sweethearts, you find yourself falling for an office co-worker, you may need to declare your love to your employer before you ever utter those three little words to your significant other.
Many offices have “love contract” policies aimed at limiting sexual harassment liability, should an interoffice romance go south. These policies require disclosure, where two co-workers are involved in a consensual romantic relationship. Love contracts may regulate acceptable displays of affection within the workplace. They also frequently require arbitration of any potential sexual harassment claims, and also eliminate the employer’s liability for any sexual harassment claims related to the relationship.
In addition to making office love birds squirm, love contracts may not be as effective as strict sexual harassment policies when it comes to limiting employer liability. After all, it may be difficult to determine when interoffice dating rises to the level of disclosure. Also, some couples may fear the consequences of disclosing their relationship – for example, same sex couples may worry that disclosure would lead to discrimination or retaliation.
The shortcomings of love contracts may be solved by alternative measures. While policies prohibiting inter-office relationships altogether are on the downslide, they are being replaced by clear guidelines in the employee handbook regarding conflicts of interest and sexual harassment claims that may arise from an office romance. These policies often draw stricter guidelines for relationships between managers and staff members, requiring managers to transfer positions to avoid allegations of differential treatment.
Well-drafted policies will protect the interests of employers and employees alike, limiting the employer’s liability exposure, and allowing summer lovin’ to span the seasons.
Photo credit: Microsoft