Workplace Romance Policy: 3 Ways to Develop a Good One

Hiba Haider

Let's face it, we often can't help but spend more quality time with our coworkers than we do our families. In fact, the term "˜work spouse' has come to define a familiar relationship with a peer at work that should be strictly reserved for just a significant other at home. But with the line between personal and professional slowly blurring in the modern business world, HR teams across the country have hard time defining company policies around such a sensitive issue.

A recent survey by announced "20% of women have dated a supervisor while only 9% of men have dated their boss." Similarly, 25% of men, versus 10% of women, have admitted to dating a subordinate. There are obvious productivity, discrimination, and professionalism concerns to be considered with complicated relationships like these. But, just for the sake of playing devil's advocate, 31% of individuals reported that their office romance led to marriage (CareerBuilder). Is it really fair for an employer to prevent an individual from taking the next step in their love life simply because of their job? Is it really so unreasonable to assume that coworkers may actually share a meaningful bond that can extend beyond the office?

Regardless of our personal opinions on the topic, we believe businesses have one of three options as a way to address this issue.

Option 1: Do Nothing

For companies that have established and enforced strong discrimination and harassment training, any liabilities or negative consequences of office dating should be addressed within that policy. Because the rules around these issues have so clearly been stated, employees, in theory, will think twice before crossing any inappropriate lines. This option acknowledges that the "˜Big Brother' tactic may drive away great talent and leave a bad taste in the mouths of employees. Start-ups and smaller companies that are still figuring out how to define their culture most commonly adopt this approach.

Option 2: Forbid It Entirely

Companies may choose to entirely eliminate the option of dating at the workplace as a way to prevent favoritism, sexual harassment or any other legal consequences that may come about from a sour break up. But when it comes time to put this policy in place, it becomes extremely difficult to define what "˜dating' really means. Is it a close friendship, socializing out of the office, sexual relations? One way companies tend to tackle this issue is by prohibiting employees from supervising or working closely with their spouses or family members.

Option 3: Create a "˜Love Clause'

Let's be realistic, people will date at the workplace regardless of whether it's allowed or not. According to CareerBuider, while many employees were open about their office romances, 37% of respondents reported that they actively kept their relationship a secret. By having employees sign a legal document, you can set rules around how individuals are expected to behave at the office both with their partner and with other team members. This can include prohibiting any "˜PDA' or public display of affection. This can also enforce employees to behave professionally if and when the relationship terminates. Lastly, employers can choose to clearly state that dating supervisors, or any member within an individual's chain of authority, is absolutely off limits. Additionally, you can choose to ban any unprofessional relationships with contractors, vendors, suppliers, etc. Be sure to consult official legal advice when developing a contract like this to implement at your company.

Love in the workplace is an uncomfortable topic to approach. But as employees, we must constantly ask ourselves if someone you're attracted in the workplace is worth risking your reputation.

Disclaimer: The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

Hiba Haider

Hiba Haider


Hiba is an expert product marketer with a background in inbound and digital marketing. She writes about recruiting, HR laws, and how to build a great culture and is a proud Babson alumna.

Stay on top of ever-changing background check laws with our ultimate guide to background check compliance.