• "I’ll Take Romance, While My Heart Is Young And Eager to Fly": But What if It’s in The Office? A Look at 'Love Contracts'
  • February 14, 2014 | Author: Richard G. Vernon
  • Law Firm: Lerch, Early & Brewer, Chartered - Bethesda Office
  • A popular song from the 1930s, “I’ll Take Romance,” speaks of love and giving one’s heart away, but in contemporary language, “OMG!” What’s an employer to do about love in the office?

    Forbes.com reports that according to a 2013 survey by the job search website CareerBuilder.com:

    • Four out of 10 workers say they have dated a colleague at some point in their careers.

    • Three in 10 say they married the person they dated at work.

    • More and more employees are going public with their office relationships ...as many as 65%, according to the survey.

    Fortunately for employees, the ubiquitous Internet is filled with articles warning that office romances can be the proverbially “fraught with peril.” Many of these articles go on to offer employees advice on how to conduct their love affairs in the workplace. Precious few of these articles, if any, however, provide insight for employers on how to deal with or what to do about office relationships. Just as for employees, office romances can create legal and morale problems for employers, particularly where a supervisor and a subordinate employee are dating. If the supervisor decides to end the relationship, the jilted subordinate may decide to claim that the relationship was unwelcome all along and that he/she had been sexually harassed by the supervisor. Conversely, the employee may break up with the supervisor, and the supervisor may continue to pursue his/her former love, ultimately harassing him/her with various antics. In addition to these legal concerns, morale may plummet among those who are aware of the relationship, as other employees may believe that any upcoming promotion will be given to the favored subordinate. In an effort to avoid these and related situations that may wreak havoc in the workplace, employers may want to consider adopting the following policy, which attempts to regulate relationships between supervisors/managers and subordinate employees: 

    Office Relationship Management 
    “There are some circumstances where romantic relationships may be problematic in a professional setting, particularly where one of the parties has management or supervisory responsibilities. Accordingly, a member of management or a supervisor who enters into a social relationship that involves more than two dates and/or other meetings or interactions of a romantic nature with a subordinate employee of the Company, must, together with the subordinate employee, inform the President of the Company. The President will arrange for appropriate counseling of the employees, and each of them shall be required to enter into an appropriate agreement with the Company in which, among other things, they acknowledge that: (i) the relationship is consensual and not unwelcome; (ii) they have been counseled with respect to their obligations and rights under the law and with respect to the Company’s anti-harassment policy; and (iii) they understand that the relationship may not interfere with their respective work duties and responsibilities, may not adversely affect other employees of the Company, and may not result in a negative perception of the Company by any member of the public. The agreement will also require the employees to inform the Company if the relationship ends.” 

    The supervisor/manager and the subordinate employee each then signs the referenced “love contract,” following appropriate counseling by the employer about each of the employees’ respective rights and obligations. The supervisor/manager principally acknowledges or promises, among other things, that:

    • The relationship is consensual;

    • The supervisor understands the company’s written discrimination, harassment and retaliation policies;

    • The subordinate will not receive either preferential treatment or conversely, unfair adverse treatment;

    • The relationship may not have a negative effect on employee morale or result in a negative perception of the company by the public; and

    • The supervisor is required to inform the employer if the relationship ends.

    The supervisor/manager agrees that it is a condition of his/her continued employment that he/she signs this agreement and continues to abide by all of its terms, further, that he/she will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including discharge, if he/she fails to do so. The subordinate employee’s love contract generally mirrors the agreement signed by the supervisor/manager who is the other player in the relationship. 

    By requiring employees to acknowledge the consensual nature of their relationship and their responsibilities about how the relationship affects the workplace, employers may prevent or defend against any future harassment claims and may eliminate or diminish internal dissension that otherwise may be caused by an in-house supervisor/subordinate relationship. With love contracts, employers can allow the course of true love to run, but will be better protected in the event it does not run smoothly.