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Every business needs a love contract: A guide to office relationships

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    I was recently watching a show, and one of the characters was complaining to her boss saying “I work 6 days a week, 12-hour days, if not more, when do you expect me to find a relationship?” She was being reprimanded for dating a coworker and her supervisor explained that it was against the rules.

    That begs the question: Is it? Is it fair to keep a standard of not dating at work? 

    It does not matter which side you take on the topic of consensual relationships at work—there must be a standard that we all can agree to. I am married to this day because I dated my coworker and between you and me, I was her supervisor (well, not technically, she wasn’t in my section). Still, on the company organizational chart, I outranked her. So, I do have a bit of a personal stake in this topic, but for every success story of office romance I can guarantee you, there are just as many occasions where it crashed and burned.  

    So, what do we do? In the spirit of the most romantic month of the year, let’s figure out some of the best practices to utilize at your office. This could be useful for you, especially if you have coworkers dating or you are deciding what policy needs to be in place for the possibility of coworkers dating and training on preventing sexual harassment.  

    We must understand that we have coworkers that are involved in some relationships outside of the office. They may be in a full-blown relationship or harmless flirting, but wherever they are, it is our job to give them clear expectations and guidelines.   

    What is a love contract?

    A love contract is a document that outlines the consensual relationship between two coworkers who are dating. But why bother with all the paperwork, you might ask? Well, let’s put it this way: would you rather deal with a love triangle between your employees or just a simple contract? Think of it as a prenup, but instead of protecting your assets, it protects your company from any potential legal issues. 

    Tip That Whirks: Policy needs to be consistent with employee handbook 

    Here are some policy questions to ask yourself before getting started.

    • Do you have a no-dating policy?
    • Is it in your employee handbook? 
    • Do your employees know what is expected of them if they want to enter a consensual relationship with a coworker? 
    • Do you have a love contract? 

    What’s inside a love contract?

    Let’s take a closer look at what a love contract entails. A love contract should include the following elements: 

    • A statement of the consensual nature of the relationship. 
    • A clear policy for what to do if the relationship ends. 
    • A code of conduct for the couple to follow in the workplace. 
    • A statement acknowledging that the company’s sexual harassment policy still applies. 
    • An attestation confirming no sexual harassment/assault has happened prior to date of signed love contract. 
    • Both parties and an officer for the company needs to sign and date the contract. 

    By implementing a love contract, you’re taking the liability off your company’s shoulders and putting it back where it belongs – with the individuals involved in the relationship. 

    Can a love contract be funny? 

    But let’s not forget the most important part – the comedy. Adding a humorous twist to the love contract can lighten the mood and make the process much more enjoyable for all parties involved. While you’ll want to set clear boundaries like the following, you’ll also be able to add your own little details to make it more personable.

    • Remain professional at all times. 
    • Treat them as a coworker while at work. 

    These are important things to lay out clearly. Now you could also include a clause stating that any public displays of affection must be limited to high fives and fist bumps. Or that in the case of a break-up, a “no cry zone” will be established in the office for a period of time.  

    A Critical Part of Sexual Harassment Prevention 

    Tip that Whirks — Don’t hide the relationship

    This might be tough advice to follow, especially if you’re not sure where the relationship will go. Now, you don’t have to let everyone know, and you don’t have to disclose your intention after the first date. However, letting people know reduces the awkwardness and increases the likelihood that they’ll be positive about the relationship. Trust me, even if you don’t let anyone know, people will figure it out.

    Secrets tend to erode our trust in one another and, when the truth comes out, people are going to feel lied to. Keep your disclosure simple and straightforward. You might say something like, “We went on a few dates, but I’m sure you can understand that I don’t want to get into more detail about our personal lives.” 

    Tell Your Manager  

    Make sure that your manager is one of the first people you tell about your newfound feelings. Any number of situations can present itself, which will only end badly, but if your manager is aware of the situation then he/she can defend/deescalate when a fellow coworker makes a claim of sexual harassment, because she saw you kiss employee x in the breakroom, or she overheard a very flirtatious conversation.  

    Stay away from your boss 

    It’s best not to date your managers or subordinates. It is not a good idea to get involved with anybody who is in your chain of command — up or down. Boss-employee romances do happen — and sometimes those relationships work out. However, if that’s something you’d like to consider, take action immediately to transfer to a new boss or reassign your direct report to another team.  

    So, next time you’re thinking about updating your sexual harassment prevention program, consider adding a love contract. It’s a win-win situation for both your company and your employees. Less drama, less liability, and a lot more clarity. 

    Conclusion creating a clear policy on office relationships is a must

    Creating a space where your employees are fully aware of the policy about dating at work and what their responsibilities are will help avoid an unpleasant situation.   

    In conclusion, a written love contract is a simple and effective way to prevent any potential legal issues in the workplace and add a touch of humor to the process. So, let’s raise a glass to love in the workplace, but let’s do it with a written contract in hand. And when we do that…we all win! 

    Ready to talk HR needs or other back office tasks? So are we!