Love is in the air… but is it toxic?

Love is in the air… but is it toxic?

Love is in the air… but is it toxic? Office romances are an inevitable part of working life and, with Valentine’s Day this weekend, it’s likely some of your employees will wind up ‘involved’ – but is that so bad? HR manager Dianne Austin certainly thinks so.

"All employers should be concerned about workplace romances," says Austin. “Minimally, because of the effect on employee morale and ultimately because of the potential legal issues.”

"Office romances that end badly can spill over into the daily work environment," she warned. "Employers may find themselves dealing with issues of decreased productivity, or mediating between employees who are no longer working collaboratively with each other."

Wandering eyes – and employees

Austin says employers should be particularly worried if their most valued employees embark on an office romance.

Regardless of whether the love affair lasts or is destined for failure, HR managers risk losing integral members of the team as a result.

When a relationship goes well, some couples are concerned that they spend too much time together and seek out other, independent, opportunities.

But when the partnership crashes and burns, Austin says employees may feel “they can no longer work at the company because of the breakup.”

It’s an epidemic

It seems the issue is remarkably wide spread – a new survey by CareerBuilder reports that 34 per cent of Canadian workers have dated a co-worker and research from the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 43 per cent of HR professionals have had to deal with office romances.

The CareerBuilder survey also found that 26 per cent of those who engaged in an office romance ended up married to their suitor – but what about the other 74 per cent?

"Invariably, most relationships will come to an end,” said employment lawyer Harley Storrings. “There could come a point where one person wants the relationship to continue and the other person doesn't – sooner or later, unwanted advances could create a hostile work environment claim, so you need to be very careful there," he warned.

Sweet nothings

While it would be difficult for any employer to enforce a strict no-romance policy in the workplace, Austin says HR managers should definitely have concrete restrictions in place.

Austin suggested employers enforce a strict ban on romantically involved employees participating in romantic or sexually explicit conversations, open displays of affection, such as hugging, kissing, touching, blowing kisses and winking, and “romantic rendezvous” on office property.

Love is a constant…

Regardless of how you choose to handle workplace romances, the most important thing is to make sure you’re consistent, says Storrings.

For example, Storrings suggested employers adopt a uniform policy on what to do when relationships aren't openly disclosed.

"If it is going to be termination, then every single time you need to be prepared to terminate the employee," he said. "If it is going to be a disciplinary process, then just be consistent."

If employers stray from this, they’re opening themselves up to potential lawsuit’s he warned.

Have you dealt with a workplace romance that turned sour? Share your story below.

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  • Ted McNicol 2015-02-14 8:40:22 PM
    There's a delicate balance between avoiding uncomfortable situations in the office and trying to control normal human behaviour. With people spending a large portion of their life in the workplace, there are going to be romances inevitably, especially for single employees who may have most of their social contact at the office. Companies that encourage employees to form sports teams or participate in local events together are more likely to have such relationships develop. Who would want to work in a company that discouraged human interaction?

    Rather than trying to prevent office romances, which may tend to drive them underground, basic rules are required. First, where a relationship between a leader and someone else, the company needs to have rules in place for its own protection. The only solution in those situations is to remove one of the employees so that there can be no allegations of undue influence.

    I disagree with a strict ban on "romantic behaviour" because all that will occur is driving the relationship underground. Certainly encouraging appropriate behaviour in the office would be acceptable to all, without trying to define it - one person's opinion will likely differ from another's.

    Allowing the relationship to be "in the open" is the best way to ensure the people involved are aware they must comport themselves professionally. This will be good preparation for the inevitable situation where some office relationships will fizzle, and there will be less likelihood of tension increasing to the breaking point.
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