Publications

: Client Update - Love is in the Air @ the Office

February 14, 2012

Do not underestimate love in the workplace. Reports of workplace love are not as rare as you may think. Recent headlines include:

  • Love Hearts factory in Britain reports that of 500 employees, 122 are in a relationship with one another.  
  • According to CareerBuilder's 2009 office romance survey, 31 per cent of the 8,000 U.S. employees polled had married someone they met at work. 
  • President Barack Obama reportedly met his wife Michelle at work. 
Although there are sweet stories about workplace romances there are also reasons why employers will want to adopt policies addressing such relationships before they blossom in the workplace and potentially create issues.  A summary checklist of those policies follows.

Code of Conduct Policy

Employers cannot rely on common sense when it comes to love at work and should consider including some rules regulating work romances in their code of conduct, which should provide employees with information before they embark on a workplace relationship. Such a policy would:

  • say that a romantic relationship must not affect the work environment or productivity;
  • Prohibit a superior | subordinate relationship;
  • Require all office romances be disclosed to human resources;
  • Provide disciplinary consequences for violations; and
  • Make sure employees are aware of the harassment policy.

Harassment Policy

Not all relationships have happy endings and case law is clear that sometimes these relationships can be complicated when, for example, the relationship crosses over from romance to harassment.  The impact on other employees can also work against productivity, harmony and workplace morale.  

With sexual harassment claims regularly making headlines, the developing law of negligence (including a recent privacy tort recognized by the Ontario Court of Appeal and heightened knowledge of employee rights), employers should take steps to ensure that a harassment complaint or lawsuit does not arise, by implementing and following a harassment policy.  Indeed, in some workplaces having a harassment policy is the law.  The fundamentals of a harassment policy provide (1) a clear definition of harassment, (2) a complaint process, (3) a fair and confidential investigation process, and (4) a fair and final outcome mechanism. 

Computer & EQUIPMENT Use Policy

At a minimum, a computer equipment use policy should clearly prohibit any form of harassment via email or telephone.  

Communicate, Distribute and Follow Your Policies Consistently

As with all policies, the effectiveness of harassment, workplace relationship and computer use policies don’t stop once in print and approved by management.  They must be distributed and clearly communicated to employees and followed consistently to be enforceable. 

While this won’t solve all of the potential issues of workplace romances, it will assist in setting boundaries to protect against future harassment claims if things go bad!

The foregoing is intended for general information only. If you have any questions, or for a detailed list and background of our Labour & Employment practice group, please visit www.stewartmckelvey.com

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