Is a “Love Contract” Right for Your Office Lovebirds?

Is love in the air at your office? Unfortunately, such romances can become nightmares for employers, as workplace romances can lead to accusations of unfair treatment, sexual harassment, retaliation, and even workplace violence.

For these reasons, employers may wish to institute a clear policy regarding office romances. In general, the policy can take one of two approaches.  First, the employer can outright ban all romantic relationships between employees.  Such bans (commonly referred to as non-fraternization policies) are becoming uncommon as employers realize that the bans do not actually stop romances, but instead make them secretive – which can be a landmine for sexual harassment/discrimination claims for the employer if the relationship ends.

Alternatively, instead of banning relationships, employers can establish workplace guidelines for romantically-involved coworkers. In order to limit liability in the event that a romantic relationship between employees ends, such policies should:

  • reiterate the employer’s sexual harassment policy and reporting options;
  • require employees in a relationship disclose the existence of the relationship to Human Resources;
  • require employees in a relationship to execute a “love contract.”  Yes, a love contract. No, we’re not talking about a pre-nup. In the employment arena, a love contract (also called a “Consensual Romance in the Workplace Agreement”) is an agreement that the employees in a relationship sign in which they agree: (a) the relationship is consensual; (b) to inform HR immediately if the relationship becomes nonconsensual or ends; (c) to recuse themselves from any decision-making processes that could affect the other’s pay, promotional opportunities, performance reviews (even after the relationship ends); (d) not engage in public displays of affection at work; and (e) to treat each other professionally – and not retaliate against the other – if/when the relationship ends; and
  •  outline the additional guidelines (both in the policy and in the love contract) that will apply if the romantic relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate. In such situations, most employers require the supervisor to change departments/roles so that they no longer (and never will) manage the subordinate.

Regardless of the approach – a non-fraternization policy or a love contract – all employers are well-advised to ensure that any policy regarding workplace relationships is written in gender neutral terms and is enforced uniformly.

Please feel free to reach out to us if you have any questions or need any assistance drafting a policy or “love contract” to fit the needs of your organization.

 

 

About Amanda Marie Baer

Amanda Marie Baer is an associate in the firm's Labor, Employment and Employee Benefits Group and Litigation Group.  Amanda focuses her practice on representing employers in federal and state courts and before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, defending against claims concerning discrimination, harassment, retaliation, wrongful termination, accommodations, and wage and hour laws.  Amanda also has experience in conducting workplace investigations into allegations of discrimination or harassment, enforcing and defending employment, noncompetition/nonsolicitation, and severance agreements and representing businesses in contractual, fraud, and general business litigation matters.
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