Cupid Strikes… Work Suffers. How to Deal with Workplace Romance

cupid-622122_1280Mary and Bill.  They are employed by your organization and they’re swept up in their new-found love for each other.

You’re hot under the collar because Bill’s sales have dropped off and Mary hasn’t met the deadline on several projects.  You believe their romance is distracting them from their job performance.

How do you deal with this and similar situations?  Handle problem workplace romances in the same manner as you would any other personnel problem.  Meet separately with the individuals.  Outline the level of performance you expect from each of them.  Identify goals.  Arrange for dates by which you expect improvement.  Warn them if their performance doesn’t improve, they risk further disciplinary action, even termination.

What happens if Mary is your new sales manager and Bill is one of your sales people?  You receive complaints from other sales people suggesting Mary is showing favoritism to Bill.  You investigate and learn Mary and Bill are romantically involved.  Here’s what to do:

Meet separately with the individuals.  Explain you (the employer) prohibit dating and romantic involvement between supervisors and individuals they supervise.  Explain the choices they can make.  If you can move one of the individuals to another job, offer this as a choice.  Other options, one of the employees can voluntarily leave your employment, one of the employees will be terminated, or the employees will discontinue their romantic involvement.

Give them a reasonable time — one or two days — to give you a decision.  Explain to them if they cannot reach a decision in the allotted time you will make a decision based on the best business-related interests of the employer.

But this is not the end of romance problems.  Here are examples of other troublesome romance situations:

  • Example: What do you do when an employee dates a worker employed by your competitor? A large employer fired a woman because of just such a situation.  She sued for wrongful discharge and intentional infliction of emotional distress.  A jury awarded her $300,000.
  • Example: What do you do when an employee dates one of your best customers?  How about when an employee begins an extramarital affair with a co-worker?  Or when you want to fire an employee whose spouse is one of your most valuable employees?

Base your policy and your actions toward workplace romances on the impact of such relationships on employees’ work performance ad on how the relationships may impact the business.  Since a policy prohibiting dating and romantic relationships between employees may cause your employees to feel you are intruding into their private affairs, consult with an attorney for guidance on establishing such a policy.  Too strict a policy may be seen by employees as limiting the job opportunities and advancement for women and other protected classes.

Keep It Job-Related

No matter what kind of problem you are confronted with concerning workplace romance, make certain the remedy or disciplinary action is job-related.

In order to sustain a termination in most court jurisdictions, you must show substantial evidence the behavior of Romeo and Juliet:

  • Adversely affects the performance of their jobs.
  • Hurts the smooth functioning of your business.
  • Creates the potential for a sexual harassment charge if the romance turns sour.

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