- With Valentine's Day just around the corner, it may be a good time to review how workplace romances can potentially run afoul of HR-related legal issues.
- Of course, Cupid's arrow often strikes at work and intra-office dating may initially seem harmless (and is going to happen). But employers may be left picking up the pieces when hearts get broken and sexual harassment or discrimination claims are filed, according to Fisher & Phillips, an employment law firm.
- In fact, sexual harassment charges cost U.S. employers more than $208 million during the past five years via EEOC fines. Employers need to be aware of the top five areas that, when ignored, can land an employer in court when office romance turns sour.
Michael Abcarian, managing partner at Fisher & Phillips, says that employers often look the other way concerning romance and that's a definite no-no. Instead, employers must acknowledge the reality that intra-office relationships occur, and establish and enforce policies about relationships among coworkers.
Another problem is forgetting the importance of boundaries. Office dating policies need boundaries. If employers allow office relationships, they should articulate expectations and set limits. Employers should consider prohibiting relationships between supervisors and employees, for obvious reasons.
Other advice includes establishing and encouraging use of procedures for reporting sexual harassment (including more than one point of contact). Also, employers must always take sexual harassment claims seriously, and must enforce any existing policy equally and consistently. In other words, they can't play favorites — no matter the level of the person involved.