Office romances aren’t all bad, but they often come with risks

Understand some precautions to take when it comes to relationships in workplaces, HR expert says

Stock image. (Pexels)

There are probably countless stories out there of people who have met their significant other in a workplace environment, but those successful love stories are also balanced with cases of heartbreak and headaches, both for couples and employers.

Romance in the office is an issue that couples, employers and human resource directors need to take very seriously -- yes, even if you only work together virtually, which is the case for many in 2020-21.

A lot of times, employees dating is harmless and heartwarming, but there are some precautions couples and employers should take, according to Lucy Garcia, a client advocate at G&A Partners, a Houston-based national human resources provider.

Why are office romances sometimes a problem?

One reason is if the relationship leads to unprofessional conduct.

“Often times, the two people in the relationship aren’t as professional,” Garcia said. “It affects everyone else in the workplace. Morale tends (to) decrease if the rest of the employees are aware of this unprofessional relationship. It can affect the trust and leadership of the organization. Production decreases and employee absenteeism increases. It just goes on from there, and affects many areas of the workplace.”

Another reason is that it’s not necessarily the start of a romantic relationship among employees that’s a problem, but the end of that relationship. Garcia said 40% of workplace relationships end up not working out.

“That’s when it becomes an issue and a potential liability for an employer,” she said. “It poses a great financial impact to an organization if the relationship that is a negative one impacts the workplace.”

What legal issues can arise?

Garcia said several legal issues can come up for companies, depending on the size and scope of the organization. But the biggest ones revolve around sexual harassment.

“The major (one) is when a supervisor dates a subordinate and the relationship goes bad,” Garcia said. “There’s a high percentage that the subordinate employee will then state that she or he was coerced into the relationship or they were harassed and pressured to be in the relationship. Oftentimes, that happens.”

What steps can companies take to avoid problems?

Garcia said there are a few different options companies can take if they’re worried about an office romance.

“The organization can manage it by either moving one or two of the individuals where they don’t report to each other, having them sign a relationship contract, so to speak, stating they are both in this relationship and it’s consensual, or an organization will perhaps have an opportunity to transfer one,” she said.

What steps can couples take to avoid problems?

Again, office romances aren’t a bad thing at all if they’re handled right, starting with doing some research.

“The first thing they should do is to take a look at their company policy,” Garcia said.

What is the company’s stance on relationships? Do they have to be reported? What steps need to be taken?

Garcia also said couples should be careful in the office about sharing company email systems for personal use, doing constant online chats with their partners or displaying affection in the office.

“Those are things they should probably avoid doing,” she said.

About the Author:

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.