How to Handle Workplace Romances

Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp

Cupid may not be on your payroll, but the mythical love god may well be active in your organization. Office romances are surprisingly common. Over half of respondents to a Vault.com survey said that they’d been romantically involved with someone at work, and most of them had kept the relationship a secret.

Workplace romances can make employers nervous given the potential for harassment. Some organizations prefer to ban office dating or require employees to sign a “consensual relationship agreement.” These have their drawbacks, however. Bans on workplace romance encourage secrecy and can be difficult or impossible to enforce. Signed agreements can be awkward for all parties and do little beyond setting expectations.

That said, it’s never a bad idea to ensure that all employees understand your harassment policy and what behaviors you expect in the workplace. And there is a type of workplace romance that we recommend prohibiting—that between a manager and a subordinate. Even when voluntary and consensual, these relationships tend to invite complaints about preferential treatment, and they can easily lead to harassment.

If a manager-subordinate relationship were to develop or occur, you wouldn’t necessarily need to terminate anyone’s employment, but we would generally recommend rearranging the organizational chart so one party does not report to the other.