As a guy, I prefer barbecue-type holidays, such as Memorial Day or the Fourth of July, over Valentine's Day. As employers, you probably should, too, even if it is for different reasons.
A CareerBuilder survey published in 2011 found approximately 40% of workers have dated at least one person with whom they have worked, and 18% reported dating at least two people with whom they have worked. Clearly, workplace romance is pervasive. With it can come a host of unwanted side-effects, including loss of productivity, ethical dilemmas, depressed morale, and sexual harassment claims.
Sexual harassment claims can arise in a variety of situations, including when a workplace romance goes south. They can also arise from what one employee might find to be a light-hearted joke, card or funny e-mail, sent to an employee who does not see the humor and might be completely offended. A sexual harassment claim can even arise when a thoughtful boss gives a Valentine's Day gift to an employee for a job well done, and the message is misinterpreted.
Since Valentine’s Day is upon us, take this opportunity to carefully review your policies addressing sexual harassment and workplace romances. As you do, consider the following:
1. Sexual harassment policy. Review your company's sexual harassment policy to ensure it is clear, comprehensive, and consistently enforced. Check to make sure you have an acknowledgment signed by each employee.
2. Sexual harassment training. Provide training to all your supervisors, and consider providing it to all employees. If done right, this type of training can go a long way when the EEOC comes knocking.
3. Conflict of interest policy. Consider creating a policy prohibiting romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates. To the extent such conflicts already exist, consider transferring one of the employees to another department.
4. So-called love contracts. Consider requiring mandatory disclosure of all workplace romances, and have each couple sign a document acknowledging the relationship. The "love contract" should confirm that the relationship is consensual and will not interfere with job performance, and confirm that the employees understand the sexual harassment policy and their obligation to notify the employer of any violation of the policy.
5. Action on complaints. Conduct a thorough investigation of the issue and take appropriate action immediately upon receipt of a complaint or recognition of a potential issue. Make sure you do not brush complaints off, even if they come from a worker involved in a workplace romance.
These steps will help ensure that as those flowers and chocolates are delivered to your workplace tomorrow, you will be in the best position possible to prevent the Valentine's Day "gift" no employer wants—a sexual harassment complaint.