United States: Love At Work: Romance Through Contract

Last Updated: February 16 2016
Article by L. Julius M. Turman

As we prepare to celebrate our national day of love and embrace the spirit of St. Valentine that is descending everywhere, employment lawyers have one thing on their minds – Managing Workplace Romances! From out and out prohibition, to managers who look the other way when there's an occasional "cuddle-n-kiss" in the supply closet, the risk of liability for relationships at work is a real threat. Despite company tactics to thwart liability, romance at work is not fading, but it is ever-present and growing stronger. Companies need a practical approach to dealing with modern views toward inter-office relationships, and the fallout from them that can ensue. Whether the question is "want to get a drink after work" or a more modern crude expression, we recommend the following step-by-step approach from the initial ask and response:

Step One – Get With the Times: By no means do we intend this article to encourage workplace romances, as they are a huge distraction to both the participants and third-party co-workers who spend valuable time gossiping and spreading rumors, while feeling dissatisfied and distrustful of the lovebirds. Even more troubling, such corporate connections can lead to sexual harassment, retaliation and other claims of unlawful acts.

But anyone who thinks that romance at work can be prevented needs a reality check. The times we live in encourage freedom of expression and public acceptance of individuality of one’s whole self and being. Open celebration of one’s race, gender and/or sexual orientation often benefits an employer by means of greater creativity and productivity. Love at work was once taboo, but it is no longer, as modern research by companies such as leading work-life programs provider Workplace Options of Raleigh, N.C., reports that 71 percent of employees between the ages of 18 to 29 believe that a workplace romance has positive effects and improves performance and morale. Before dismissing this as the folly of the young, keep in mind that more than half an individual's waking hours are spent at work, growing more familiar with co-workers while working in close proximity. Romance is not only inevitable, but it is convenient.  Workplace Options reported that 40 percent of younger workers wouldn't have a problem dating a supervisor. Workplace Options' study results also showed that 57 percent of respondents would share their workplace romance with friends, other co-workers, and even on social media. Clearly, the attitudes are changing and employers need to accept these views, through policy and action that neither encourages romance, but at the same time incorporates the reality. No policy or procedure will entirely insulate an employer from the damage that can arise from workplace romances, but limiting liability through procedures that give employees a chance to be on notice of possible issues and enough time to take action is useful for mitigation purposes.

Step  Two – The Right Kind of Policy:  Gone are the days where a company had a chance of enforcing a strict policy of "no fraternization" or "no dating," or any attempt to tell employees who they may or may not date. Also, ineffective are policies that only forbid supervisors from dating direct reports or prohibit employees at higher levels of the organization from dating those at significantly lower levels (no executive/line employee dating). Such policies only encourage secret rendezvous that reveal themselves during damaging allegations in a legal process.

With 40 percent of employees responding to a survey by Vault.com reporting that they met their spouse at work, while 72 percent of workers who have office relationships don't try to hide them, employers are better off embracing such attitudes of disclosure, creating policies such as consensual relationship agreements, or more commonly called "Love Contracts."

A love contract is designed to take the stigma and sting out of a clandestine office tryst, by requiring that both co-worker parties: (1) voluntarily admit to the relationship; (2) read and affirm their understanding of and compliance with the company's anti-discrimination/ anti-harassment policies; (3) pledge to keep their workplace interactions professional, limiting affectionate displays and romantic expression while at work; (4) pledge to report the termination of the relationship (as they see it); and (5) affirm their duty to promptly report any act or statement that they find offensive or harassing by their partner, even if the relationship is ongoing. Both parties also agree that failing to adhere to the terms of their contract can lead to discipline up to termination.

In the case where one lover/worker is in a direct reporting relationship with the other, an important part of the love contract is an agreement to mandatory reassignment of the participating co-workers’ reporting structure so there is no manager-subordinate working relationship. From that point on, the manager in the relationship no longer has any supervisory say-so with regard to the subordinate's work assignments, pay, promotion opportunities or other indicia of work. By removing the ability for one participant to "climb the ladder" through their personal means, companies lessen, if not eliminate, the ability of anyone to claim that favoritism toward the subordinate (real or perceived) played any role in any work achievement, and forecloses any future claims stemming from an imbalance of power between the two workers. The intended effect is to decrease the cause for gossip and reputational damage (at least based on personal vs. professional grounds).

Managers need not discuss the details of any specific workplace romance or contractual relationship with other employees. But, managers and supervisors should address the rules of the love contract policy broadly with all employees so it is clear to all that a relationship between co-workers is their personal business, but it cannot impact the evaluation or performance at work; harassment and discrimination will not be tolerated; and that reporting unlawful acts and statements is required. It may not stop the gossip, but in time, the policy should demonstrate that dating is not an avenue to advancement at work, but a personal matter that should have limited impact at work.

Step Three – Only "Yes" Means "Yes!":  When one co-worker asks another to step out with him/her and the answer is anything but a "yes;" when there is a single encounter and suddenly it’s over; or after a long period of courtship the tête–à–tête comes to an abrupt halt – the reaction by the company must be swift and consistent. Keeping in mind that the co-workers don't often see their romantic situation through the same lens or that they are at the same point on the relationship spectrum, employers must carefully monitor the interactions between love contractees for any sign that the encounter is over. Relying upon a well-established, anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policy, and publicized enforcement procedures for reporting and investigating such complaints, is key. Companies with sound policies have the necessary control mechanism if the behavior of former lovers and those who never had their overtures accepted decide to lash out against their intended with offensive and inappropriate visual, verbal or physical harassment.

Whether a relationship has ended for one of the parties, or the asker continues to approach the askee for dates, the company's best defense is to make sure all employees know and understand that at any stage of a relationship, if a response to an advance is anything but a "yes," both the askee and the company demand and expect an immediate halt to romantic requests of any kind.

Step Four – Know the Rules of Love at Work: Each time an employer trains its workforce on anti-harassment/anti-discrimination policies, add a segment on the company's policy regarding workplace romances. If love contracts are the rule, make sure employees know their requirements, their responsibilities, and the consequences, including discipline up to termination for violating the policy. Companies should communicate that any equivocation as to whether or not there is a relationship, or whether the encounter is or isn't over, means the company will view that romance as "dead at work." Persistent on-and-off relationships must be carefully counseled and limited, without invading privacy; but explain how the romance is interfering with work and that the company is willing to work with them to find a solution to insulate everyone while at work.

Of course, many circumstances may make individuals decide against disclosing their relationships, or entering into a love contract. But employers aren't required to, and simply can't force disclosure. Telling employees that there is a policy and procedure, and telling them about the need for compliance, provides some measure of protection for an employer. However, companies that take on a love contract policy aren't protecting themselves by ignoring situations when they are on notice of a romantic situation, even though the parties have not disclosed or come forward to sign a love contract. In such cases, companies need to have the conversation, explain the policy, and document any decision and representations by the employees involved.

Love contracts are not a panacea for all situations that can spring from romance at work, but they are a substantial and realistic step. Though not quite love itself, companies show a measure of respect for their employees by simply providing a safe and effective environment for individual expression, which protects against negative consequences when/if love goes wrong, and also protects the company if love should turn to hate.

This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute legal advice.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions