LE­GAL HUB

You may say, it’s a brave new world for of­fice ro­mance, es­pe­cially among young mil­len­nial cu­bi­cles. Al­mo­stonethird be­lieve it is ac­cept­able to dip your pen in com­pany ink.

The HR Digest - - Content Features -

‘That’s what she said!’ Are you ready to han­dle of­fice af­fairs?

• Our VP of sales would hire peo­ple solely on their will­ing­ness to sleep with her. It made work a lot of shit work for the rest of us and we all grew to re­sent him.

• I met my Sig­nif­i­cant Other at work. We had to keep our ro­mance se­cret to the point that we still have to lie to our co- work­ers about our an­niver­sary.

• A co- worker of mine and a lady from HR thought they were be­ing se­cre­tive. Turns out, the hus­band found out and shot the guy in the eye. My co- worker has been in a veg­e­ta­tive state since. The HR still works here.

Over the past few years, work­place frat­er­niza­tion is be­com­ing more ac­cept­able, es­pe­cially among the mil­len­nial work­force. Ac­cord­ing to the re­sults pub­lished by Vault. com ( 2016), 51% of busi­ness pro­fes­sion­als have been in­volved in some sort of work­place re­la­tion­ship; 42% have had an on­go­ing, ca­sual re­la­tion­ship with their co- worker; 36% par­tic­i­pated in a ran­dom of­fice hookup; 29% were in­volved in a long- term se­ri­ous re­la­tion­ship with their co- worker; and 16% were lucky enough to meet their Sig­nif­i­cant Other at work. Of the en­tire num­ber, 64% dis­posed to look on the bright side, and said they would do it again.

As per a 2012 poll by work- life and ben­e­fits con­sul­tants Work­place Op­tions, the mil­len­nial gen­er­a­tion is blithely un­aware of how messy work­place li­aisons can get. Con­sider this: 84% of 18- to- 29- year- olds say they’d date a co­worker, com­pared to, 36% Gen Xers and only 29% of Boomers.

You may say, it’s a brave new world for of­fice ro­mance, es­pe­cially among young mil­len­nial cu­bi­cles. Al­most one- third of mil­len­ni­als be­lieve dat­ing in of­fice is de rigeur, even ex­pected, al­most. An­other sur­vey by Vault ( 2016), says 44% of Mil­len­ni­als have been in­volved in an of­fice re­la­tion­ship, com­pared to 59% for Gen X, and 66% for Baby Boomers.

Oddly enough, mil­len­ni­als, be­lieve an of­fice ro­mance can lead to pos­i­tive gains such as im­proved per­for­mance and morale. And, so do older re­spon­dents, who now pre­fer to stay frosty around work­place bound­aries of what’s ac­cept­able. Around 43% of Boomers have avoided a work­place re­la­tion­ship, fol­lowed by Gen Xers at 39% and Mil­len­ni­als at 34%. When those who par­tic­i­pated in a work­place li­ai­son were asked if they would do it again, 54% said yes, fol­lowed by mil­len­ni­als at 67% and Gen X at 68%.

It’s quite tricky al­to­gether, whether it’s a hi­er­ar­chal work­place ro­mance or a lat­eral one. The ram­i­fi­ca­tions – le­gal and so­cial, can make you wary of dip­ping your pen in com­pany ink. Some of­fices have no prob­lem with em­ploy­ees nav­i­gat­ing the murky wa­ters of de­part­men­tal de­sires. This is es­pe­cially true in cre­ative in­dus­tries like me­dia and ad­ver­tis­ing. But, with the mil­len­nial work­force oblit­er­at­ing the rules re­gard­ing dat­ing co- work­ers, it’s time to set our sights on one of its most prob­lem­atic as­pects: Reg­u­lat­ing work­place ro­mances. Fling­ing Flings Out of the Court­room

In some cor­po­rate cul­ture, half the em­ploy­ees are dat­ing, or mar­ried to, the other half, and it’s not a taboo. In many other com­pa­nies, though, of­fice ro­mances are strong dis­cour­aged, or even pro­hib­ited. Per­haps,

one big con­cern is, what about the peo­ple who are not in the re­la­tion­ship? The em­ployer needs to en­sure there is no per­ceived, or ac­tual fa­voritism. For ex­am­ple, the project man­ager’s dar­ling gets greater work flex­i­bil­ity than ev­ery­body else. Specif­i­cally, man­agers and co- work­ers tend to worry about some of these is­sues.

• Will the love­birds be able to work on projects to­gether pro­fes­sion­ally?

• Will the per­sonal re­la­tion­ship cause bias in their work, par­tic­u­larly if one has con­trol over some­thing, such as sched­ules or bud­get­ing?

• Will the two be in­ap­pro­pri­ately ro­man­tic or touchy- feely in front of other co- work­ers?

• Will the two end up in­ter­fer­ing in one an­other’s pro­fes­sional bat­tles? For ex­am­ple, if one is ter­mi­nated or treated in a way that is un­fair, will it af­fect the morale and work­ing re­la­tion­ships of the other per­son?

• Lastly, will the li­ai­son cause drama or ten­sion in the of­fice if the two have a fight, or worse, break up?

Some of this con­cerns aren’t the ones you can eas­ily ad­dress. Now, this is why some com­pa­nies have a pol­icy of sep­a­rat­ing the love­birds. This is done ei­ther by mov­ing one of them to a dif­fer­ent part of the com­pany, or, ask­ing one or the other to re­sign. It’s not ex­actly a le­gal re­quire­ment, but is widely per­ceived as a best prac­tice to min­i­mize the com­pany’s le­gal li­a­bil­ity.

Say, the su­per­vi­sor and the sub­or­di­nate are in­volved in a whirl­wind af­fair, a cupid con­tract helps en­sure that the ro­mance is vol­un­tary. It also helps es­tab­lish that there is no quid pro quo sex­ual ha­rass­ment tak­ing place. It’s the kind where a man­ager tells the sub­or­di­nate, for ex­am­ple, “You can have a raise if you sleep with me.”

Of course, this wouldn’t ap­ply to em­ploy­ees who are vol­un­tar­ily in­volved, and pre­fer to keep it pro­fes­sional. Nev­er­the­less, no one can pre­dict a break up might go. Here comes the dis­taste­ful, no frat­er­niza­tion at work­place ‘ pol­icy.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief, a pol­icy that pro­hibits work­place dat­ing is rarely ap­pro­pri­ate. As a mat­ter of fact, poli­cies pro­hibit work­place frat­er­niza­tion has back­fired on many em­ploy­ers, cre­at­ing an en­vi­ron­ment where em­ploy­ees seem to en­joy toe­ing the line be­cause of the risk in­volved. In ad­di­tion, sev­eral state laws re­quire em­ploy­ers to be aware of the broadly worded pro­vi­sions of the State La­bor Code that for­bid busi­nesses from dis­crim­i­nat­ing against an em­ployee or ap­pli­cant for law­ful off- premises con­duct dur­ing non- work­ing hours. What is a cupid con­tract?

Con­sid­er­ing all the var­i­ous ways in which an of­fice ro­mance can trans­form into a big, ugly can of worms, it might not seem so strange af­ter all to have your em­ploy­ees sign a cupid con­tract. Of course, sit­ting down with two em­ploy­ees, and mak­ing them com­mit the na­ture of their re­la­tion­ship to pa­per, is any­thing but ro­man­tic. How­ever, as the em­ployer, you’re fail­ing if the re­la­tion­ship turns sour, and no one con­sid­ered to doc­u­ment it while it was in its hon­ey­moon phase. A cupid con­tract is an agree­ment be­tween two con­sent­ing adults to ex­pli­cate

that the re­la­tion­ship it­self is, in fact, vol­un­tary and le­git­i­mate, and not the prod­uct of one of the part­ners be­ing co­erced into some­thing in­con­ve­nient be­cause of the im­bal­ance of power be­tween the two par­ties.

By ask­ing an em­ployee to con­firm in writ­ing that the re­la­tion­ship is vol­un­tary gives the busi­ness a de­fense later if one of the par­ties in­volved in the re­la­tion­ship tries to sue on the grounds that they were co­erced or in­tim­i­dated into ac­cept­ing the other party’s amorous ad­vances.

The agree­ment is in­tended to record the in­ten­tions when the re­la­tion­ship is work­ing. Later, when it isn’t, a party will have a harder time sub­stan­ti­at­ing that the re­la­tion­ship was more of a sex­u­ally preda­tory scheme on the part of a wily col­league.

A cupid con­tract also en­sures that if the ro­mance ends badly, it won’t af­fect the po­si­tion of any of the two par­ties in­volved, and that one has the right to bring any reper­cus­sions to the man­age­ment’s no­tice.

Ad­di­tion­ally, the agree­ment serves as a pow­er­ful ev­i­dence that the re­la­tion­ship wasn’t co­er­cive in na­ture, and a re­minder to the em­ploy­ees that they need to be­have ap­pro­pri­ately in the work­place.

Although, we rec­om­mend you re­view the fol­low­ing fac­tors, to de­cide whether a cupid con­tract is ap­pro­pri­ate:

The po­ten­tial im­pact on morale if the re­la­tion­ship is per­mit­ted to go for­ward; Whether com­pany pol­icy ad­dresses work­place dat­ing or re­la­tion­ships; Whether the re­la­tion­ship is cov­ered by the of­fice dat­ing pol­icy and, what does it say about this par­tic­u­lar type of re­la­tion­ship;

When draft­ing a cupid con­tract, you need to en­sure that the agree­ment is fair to both the par­ties, and pro­vides for eq­ui­table en­force­ment. In ad­di­tion, the agree­ment must in­clude the fol­low­ing el­e­ments:

An ac­knowl­edge­ment by both the par­ties that – The re­la­tion­ship is con­sen­sual; they are aware of and un­der­stand these poli­cies, and the po­ten­tial im­pact each has on their re­la­tion­ship; they are re­quired to fol­low cer­tain pro­ce­dures if the re­la­tion­ship turns non­con­sen­sual in any­way;

up to the date of the con­tract, no be­hav­ior has oc­curred that vi­o­lates the com­pany’s poli­cies;

they are aware of and un­der­stand the poli­cies on work­place dat­ing, sex­ual ha­rass­ment, work­place con­duct and busi­ness ethics;

they are aware of and un­der­stand the po­ten­tial reper­cus­sions each has on their re­la­tion­ship;

A state­ment elu­ci­dat­ing what hap­pens if ei­ther em­ployee fails to stand by com­pany poli­cies.

The down­side of a cupid con­tract is that it doesn’t for­bid other em­ploy­ees feel­ing they’re sub­jected to a hos­tile work en­vi­ron­ment if the cou­ple en­gages in amorous be­hav­ior at work. It also does not for­bid the paramour the­ory and types of sce­nar­ios in which other em­ploy­ees be­lieve the only way to get ahead is to sleep with the boss. A cupid con­tract also does not im­pact sit­u­a­tions where fa­voritism ex­ists. This, and many other rea­sons is why it’s im­per­a­tive that once a cupid con­tract goes into place, the com­pany must still take af­fir­ma­tive steps to pre­vent the work­place li­ai­son from in­ter­fer­ing with the work en­vi­ron­ment of other em­ploy­ees.

In draw­ing things to a close, we rec­om­mend re­view­ing your com­pany’s pol­icy on work­place dat­ing and li­aisons. Em­ploy­ers must en­sure the pol­icy does not vi­o­late the State La­bor Code pro­tec­tion for off- duty, off- premises law­ful con­duct. Re­gard­less of whether you de­cide to use a cupid con­tract, con­sider re­view­ing your sex­ual ha­rass­ment pol­icy and adding ad­di­tional train­ing that ad­dresses work­place ro­mances. Let’s just say, the once for­bid­den of­fice ro­mance has now be­come an ex­pected sit­u­a­tion for many busi­nesses. With so many em­ploy­ees spend­ing the ma­jor­ity of their time at work, it’s un­der­stand­able why many see the work­place as a way of meet­ing their fu­ture part­ner.

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