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"Whether that be transferring one of the employees to a different division or even termination." Storrings said the key to any office romance policy is clearly defining fraternization and what is and isn't allowed."There is always a concern you could go too far in what you prohibit so that you actually affect the rights of employees to engage in certain activities," he said.
Margaret Fiester, manager of the Society for Human Resource Management's HR Knowledge Center, said while an employer's first inclination might be to forbid all office romances, she said that probably isn't very realistic.
"You have to be careful how you craft these things, and make sure you give a pretty thorough explanation, so you don't go too far." Among the actions Austin would ban romantically involved employees from partaking in include romantic or sexually explicit conversations, open displays of affection, such as hugging, kissing, touching, blowing kisses and winking, and romantic rendezvous on office property.
Martin said she would advise companies to take the lead in creating office romances policies, rather than waiting to deal with them when they come up.
"There is a feeling (among other employees) that that individual cannot be fair or objective in making decisions if they have some kind of personal relationship," Martin said of a manager who is dating one of their employees.
"It can be very problematic for an employer." In addition, when that relationship comes to an end there are huge possibilities for sexual harassment lawsuits from the subordinate.
"I think to ban it entirely would be awfully hard to enforce," Fiester said.
"I think, though, you do need to have a clear-cut policy on workplace romance." The Society for Human Resource Management research found that office romance policies are becoming more and more prevalent.
"Companies should have policies in place and there should be a lot of training on them," she said.
"Particularly sexual harassment training, because oftentimes employees don't know of the liability that can potentially arise from office romances and how disruptive and harmful they can be in the workplace." Fiester said companies that do have a policy in place need to be sure it's enforced consistently at all levels of the organization.
For example, he said employers should adopt a uniform policy on what to do when relationships aren't openly disclosed.
"If it is going to be termination, then every single time you need to be prepared to terminate the employee," he said.
"You don't want to go to that level because that could always bring up a claim with the National Labor Relations Act." Storrings referred to a 2009 case in which employees sued their employer because they said their fraternization policy, which only prohibited employees in engaging in out-of-office activities, violated their rights.