What Does Your Policy Say?
Workplace dating policies, also known as fraternization policies, typically fall into two categories -- yes, and no. Policies banning workplace relationships, often called "anti-fraternization policies," ban relationships between coworkers altogether. Enforcing the "anti-fraternization" policy is often as simple as determining what the consequences of a workplace relationship are, and applying them accordingly. Looser policies, which might allow inter-office relationships within certain guidelines, are at once easier and more difficult to create and to enforce. They can make navigating the waters of office relationships easier for employees and management alike, but only if they address the most common pitfalls in office romances.
What's Allowed, What's Not
A good workplace dating policy is easy to enforce because it clearly states what relationships are allowed in the office, and which are not. Typical situations that are banned within office relationships include fraternization between employees who work in the same department, a relationship where one employee supervises another, or where employees have conflicts of interest. The policy should outline what steps will be taken to remedy the situation when employees who are restricted from dating by policy are found in violation. It is not unusual for demotion or dismissal if the violator is a supervisor dating someone under her supervision.
Get It In Writing
Employment attorney James Y. Wu, writing in "Contra Costa Lawyer," suggests that employers make informed consent part of dating policies as self-protection, and as a way to enforce policy guidelines. "Informed consent policies typically require that each party confirm that the relationship is consensual, that the relationship will not interfere with the parties’ job performance, and that it will not negatively alter the work environment," writes Wu. A signed acknowledgement, called "a love contract," as part of the policy, can also help employers stress that relationships must not run afoul of other workplace policies, such as sexual harassment policies or ethics policies.
Enforcement = Training
Workplace policies often collect dust on hard drives and in binders until a problem pops up -- and then it's too late. The most important part of enforcing any workplace policy, and especially hot-button policies such as workplace dating, is training. Introduce new employees to policies as part of a new-hire orientation program, but don't stop there. Make educating employees on your company's policies part of regular staff meetings or continuing-education events. Keeping your policies on your employees' radars makes it hard for less-than-honest employees to claim ignorance when they fail to follow them, and makes it easier for good employees to stay on the straight and narrow.