National dialogue on sexual harassment raises questions about dating in the workplace
- National discussions on sexual harassment and the abuses of power associated with it have prompted U.S. employers to more deeply consider their workplace dating policies, reports The Wall Street Journal. Employers like startup Asana are adopting dating policies to reduce the liability workplace romances can generate.
- In setting dating policies, Asana executives told the Journal that they wondered whether employees who aren't each other’s managers should disclose their involvement, if one-night encounters should be reported, or whether employees who date but aren't committed should disclose their relationship. Over the last 10 years, the percent of workers who said they dated a colleague stayed around 40%, says the Journal, citing statistics from a CareerBuilder survey. In a late 2017 study, the percentage of workers dropped to a 10-year low of 36%, down from 41% in 2016.
- Doug Smith, managing principal of law at Jackson Lewis, told the Journal that since September, many more employers are coming to him about sexual harassment concerns. He recommends setting a strict policy that could lead to a manager's firing if they date someone below their rank. But some HR experts believe that overly stringent rules on romantic relationships in the workplace can be hard to enforce and make attracting and retaining talent difficult.
The #MeToo movement no doubt has many employers concerned about how to handle romantic relationships in the workplace to avoid liability. Some employers might prefer to ban office romances entirely, but such policies are impossible to enforce. And as HR executives have acknowledged, restrictive dating policies could hamper employers' hiring and retention efforts due to being seen as overly invasive.
Employers should consider all the different kinds of romantic involvements that might occur at work and the level of risk each one could generate before setting or revising a dating policy. Asana executives reviewed different dating scenarios to set a policy that would be effective, but not too intrusive or overly restrictive, for example.
Pervasive and potentially damaging problems like sexual harassment and discrimination show how crucial policies are to the workplace. Having a policy in place allows an employer to not only protect employees, but also itself. To prevent problems in the first place, however, employers should be upfront about their focus on inclusivity and zero-tolerance for harassment and misconduct.
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