What Employees Think About Office Sweethearts and Hookups

Posted by: Gail Cecchettini Whaley, Esq. on Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 8:45:00 am

Is the #MeToo movement changing workers’ feelings about workplace romance? More than 1 in 4 workers indicated that due to recent high profile allegations of sexual harassment, romantic relationships between colleagues are not acceptable, according to Vault.com’s 2018 Office Romance Survey.

Although opinions on the topic might be changing, it’s not time to proclaim the death of office romance. The reality is that office romance is still widespread; 52% of survey respondents admitted to having had at least one office romance.

Like a bouquet of Valentine roses, office romances have some thorns:

• "Random hookups" are the most common type of relationship (24%)
• 22% of office romances start at a happy hour or holiday party
• Nearly half of the respondents know a co-worker who had an affair at the office or while on a business trip
• 20% of respondents have themselves had an office affair

Bosses…Just Say No

There is one sweet note from last year’s survey: 43% of respondents think it is unacceptable to have an office romance with an employee at a different level in the company—an all-time high and a spike of nearly 15% compared to previous years.

Why Should Employers Worry About Supervisor/Subordinate Romances?

The power dynamics at play in these types of relationships really “up the ante” where sexual harassment is concerned. Is a supervisor and subordinate relationship truly consensual or “welcome” given the fact that a supervisor has the power to fire the employee or ruin his or her career? Employers will be held strictly liable for a supervisor’s sexual harassment of a subordinate.

Survey respondents recognize the perils of these relationships, stating that:

• "Dating a supervisor or subordinate is borderline illegal and at a minimum can put the organization in a position to be sued if other peer employees believe they have been treated wrongly due to favoritism stemming from a personal relationship between their supervisor and peer colleague."
• "[Dating a subordinate is] way too risky—plus everyone is so paranoid now you'd have to be an idiot."

Broken Hearts

Consensual relationships between peers can also negatively impact the workplace.

Most co-worker relationships don’t last forever, and when the relationship ends, there are often hard feelings. This can lead to gossip, drama, poor morale, absenteeism, turnover, and lack of productivity. Even worse, one party may keep pursuing the other—turning what was once welcome conduct into an unwelcome work environment. Employers can be liable for co-worker harassment if they knew or should have known of the conduct and fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

What Employers Should Do:

1. Provide all employees with an up-to-date harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention policy.
2. Consider a “consensual relationship dating policy” to be signed by employees when they choose to date another employee in the workplace.
3. Meet your new CA training obligations by providing one hour of harassment prevention training to all employees and two hours of harassment prevention training to supervisors. All employers with 5 or more employees must meet these training requirements by the end of 2019.

Let CEA help! From Harassment Prevention Training and Employee Handbooks to Investigations and HR Audits, CEA is here to offer personalized support and service to your California businesses.

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