Love is in the air, everywhere I look around, love is in the air, every sight and every sound. When John Paul Young wrote these lyrics in 1979, he probably didn’t have the workplace in mind.
But this Valentine’s Day will find love in the air at work. According to a recent CareerBuilder survey, over 40% of U.S. workers acknowledge dating a colleague and nearly one-third found marriage in the workplace. Other surveys find that Human Resources managers report that love is everywhere they look around and is a common issue that needs to be addressed.
Love in every sight and every sound at work can come with a number of headaches for the employer. Obviously, the employer wants to decrease sexual harassment litigation risk, especially when the workplace romance sours. The potential for one spurned lover to claim pressure is a concern. There are also issues about perceptions of favoritism that creates poor employee relations. Other employees might not be as happy with the romance in the workplace. On the other hand, employees involved in consensual romance may want to have their employer stay out of their privacy. These are complicated issues for a mediation.
For the Human Resources manager, there is good reason to be concerned. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission took issue with employers over 12,000 times in 2017 on sexual harassment claims.
Many employers have begun negotiating what has been often called a “Love Contract” (although lawyers prefer “Consensual Relationship Agreement”). The Love Contract establishes workplace guidelines for dating or romantically involved coworkers. The purpose of the agreement is to limit the liability of the employer in the event that the romantic relationship ends on a bad note. Sometimes the Human Resources manager is the mediator; sometimes an outside mediator is used.
As part of the negotiation, the Love Contract is reduced to writing and sets forth an understanding about guidelines on appropriate behavior at work. The terms typically negotiated include confirmation that the relationship is welcome and consensual by both employees; either may terminate the relationship at any time without suffering workplace retaliation; neither employee will seek or accept a direct supervisory or reporting relationship with the other or, if so, the supervisor involved in the relationship will not participate in any discussions or decisions related to the terms of the other’s employment; the lovers will not engage in conduct that could reasonably be regarded by co-workers as favoritism; they will not engage in public displays of affection; and they will inform the employer immediately if the social relationship ends or if the conduct of the other employee is no longer welcome.
A mediated Love Contract may help mitigate the risk of lawsuits for employers and make for happier employees. This is a useful tool for dealing with love in the workplace. As William Shakespeare wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”