Does your business have an employee relationship policy in place? It’s an important step to take, both for addressing the inevitable and to protect your company from a liability standpoint. Workplace relationships are bound to happen, but they come with risks: harmful office gossip, inappropriate displays of affection in the office, and even sexual harassment charges in the worst-case scenarios. That’s why it’s essential to have a solid policy in place ahead of time to address these possibilities.
Here are four areas to address in your company’s employee relationship policy:
What is Acceptable, and What is Not
Make sure that your employee relationship policy addresses what kind of relationships will be accepted in the workplace, and which will not. For instance, an employee dating a direct supervisor can lead to a conflict of interest, favoritism, and other problems, and shouldn’t be tolerated. And make it clear that public displays of affection, office gossip regarding the relationship, and other unprofessional conduct will not be accepted.
Clearly Defined Consequences
Define what will happen if the policies regarding workplace relationships are ignored. It’s up to you to determine what those consequences are, whether it’s a reprimand that goes on the employee’s permanent record, a demotion, or even termination. Employees must know the concrete consequences that will happen if they violate workplace relationship policies, so define these consequences clearly upfront.
Sexual Harassment Policies
Your company must state outright that no sexual harassment will be tolerated under any circumstance, whether it’s in regards to a workplace relationship or not. This kind of zero-tolerance policy should sit at the heart of your workplace relationship policy. And be sure to address the fact that an incident can be considered sexual harassment even if it happens in a consensual context. That sexual harassment allegation will need to be handled in the proper legal manner outside of company policy, as well as internally.
You might also consider adding a relationship contract to your HR handbook. These contracts are signed by each party in the relationship to indicate that both the couple and HR are aware of the relationship, and that the partners are aware of what is acceptable, what the consequences are, and what is appropriate should the relationship end. It’s an excellent way to get everything out on the table from the start and make sure that everyone is on the same page.
When it comes to employee relationships, companies must be prepared ahead of time, not reactive after the fact. That way, the happy couple can enjoy their relationship, and your company won’t have to worry about any liability issues.
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