By: Run ADP

With the amount of time spent at work, co-workers sometimes develop personal relationships. These relationships can lead to concerns about favoritism, conflicts of interest, sexual harassment complaints, and related issues. Here are some factors to consider for addressing these concerns.

#1: Evaluate policy options.
Consider your company culture to decide what type of policy makes sense for your business. While you might have difficulty enforcing an outright ban on all workplace dating, you can discourage workers from entering relationships when there might be a conflict of interest or an imbalance in power (such as a supervisor-employee relationship, or an HR-manager relationship). Additionally, you can expect employees to maintain a professional environment and refrain from public displays of affection while on-duty and on company premises. Keep in mind that some states prohibit employers from taking adverse action against employees for lawful off-duty conduct, which may be construed to apply to dating. Draft and enforce your policy to comply with all applicable laws.

#2: Consider asking for disclosure.
Some employers require that employees disclose their workplace romance to their supervisor or HR. With knowledge of the relationship, employers can take steps to help minimize the impact to the business. Pay particular attention when there is an imbalance in power, which was a common thread in the harassment complaints that received national attention in 2017. Consider meeting with the employees individually to confirm the relationship is consensual and reminding them that they are expected to remain professional in the workplace and that their relationship cannot interfere with performance. In some cases, employers may also consider modifying the reporting structure to avoid a conflict of interest.

#3: Implement an anti-harassment policy.
All employers should have a written policy that prohibits sexual and other forms of harassment and outlines the company’s complaint process. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature that affects an individual’s employment, unreasonably interferes with work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment. Employees should abide by your sexual harassment policy during work hours as well as after hours and outside of the workplace.

#4: Develop an effective complaint process.
Encourage employees to report inappropriate conduct, without fear of retaliation, before it becomes severe or pervasive, whether they are a victim or a witness. Offer multiple avenues to file complaints, and assure employees that you take all complaints seriously and will investigate the allegations.

#5: Investigate.
If you learn of misconduct or a workplace relationship affecting the work environment, launch a prompt, impartial, and thorough investigation. Depending on the circumstances, consider whether an internal investigation is sufficient or if you need to have an outside third party conduct an impartial investigation. If an investigation reveals that harassment occurred, take immediate and appropriate corrective action to remedy the harassment and prevent it from recurring. Administer your disciplinary policy on a consistent basis regardless of who is involved. If employees see you treating certain employees more leniently than others, it will likely breed a culture of mistrust and prevent employees from coming forward with complaints in the future.

#6: Train supervisors.
Train supervisors on your policies and how to report and respond to misconduct in the workplace. Supervisors should know how to identify and respond to sexual and other forms of harassment and how to handle situations in which a workplace relationship impacts morale or productivity.

Clearly communicate standards of conduct and ensure that your policies and practices effectively prevent and respond to inappropriate behavior.

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