Dating danger? Businesses rethink workplace romance policies


By JOYCE M. ROSENBERG

AP Business Writer

NEW YORK

It happens in so many workplaces – two colleagues begin a romantic relationship. But a heightened awareness about sexual harassment means small business owners can get more anxious when employees start dating.

Many owners have consulted with employment attorneys or human-resources professionals since the accusations against movie executive Harvey Weinstein in November. Some owners have created or updated their policies on dating and sexual harassment, and they’re making sure staffers know the rules and to speak up if they feel harassed.

Bosses who in the past just watched with interest as a relationship blossomed are being proactive, telling couples that if the romance sours, both people are expected to behave appropriately. And some owners are even asking couples to sign statements acknowledging that their relationship is consensual.

Sammy Musovic has seen many romances – and breakups – at his three Manhattan restaurants. After the reports about Weinstein and others, Musovic consulted with an attorney to understand what his legal liability could be if an employee relationship led to harassment charges. He decided against changing his policy that allows dating, but he’s keeping a closer eye on interactions between employees.

“When I know staffers are dating, I speak to each of them in private and just try to understand the situation,” says Musovic, who owns Sojourn, Vero Bar and Selena Rosa.

Jacqueline Breslin, an executive with HR provider TriNet, is fielding more questions from businesses that want to know how to handle employees dating. The first step is often to determine whether companies have policies on dating and sexual harassment; if not, they need to be written.

Dating policies should set expectations for staffers’ behavior, such as that emotions should not be displayed at work. Policies must also address issues such as relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Some owners might be tempted to ban employee relationships altogether. But people attracted to one another may still date on the sly. And strict policies can backfire – talented employees may choose love over a job and leave.

Problems can also arise when employees want to date clients or vendors. Those relationships have the potential for conflicts-of-interest as well as harassment issues.

One option for owners is to have dating staffers sign what’s called a relationship contract, stating they’re in a consensual relationship and that they’ve read and will abide by the company’s written policy on sexual harassment.

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