As Valentine's Day arrives, some tips on managing workplace romance

14 February 2022 3 min. read
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Workplace romance can be a sticky subject for many businesses, but managers should address it head-on with clear policies that every employee understands, according to the experts at Peninsula Canada, an HR consulting and health and safety outsourcing firm.

Workplace romances are an inescapable element of the modern office. The number one factor in determining a person’s friends and romantic partners is physical proximity, so the workplace inevitably succeeds the classroom as the primary arena of romantic interaction as a person progresses through life stages – despite the recent counter-influences of internet dating applications and remote work.

Until humans are finally herded into their metaverse pods to be harvested for energy, business leaders will continue to contend with the brow-furrowing implications of workplace romance. According to research from Peninsula UK, a quarter of all Britons are in a relationship with someone they met at work.

In Canada, there aren’t any established laws against romantic relationships in the workplace, but most organizations institute their own formal policies to prevent conflicts of interest, business disruption, and legal claims.

As Valentine’s Day arrives, some tips on managing workplace romance

“As a general rule, romantic relationships between superiors and subordinates should be avoided if possible,” says Olivia Cicchini, a legal content specialist within Peninsula Canada’s legal department. “Due to the power differential, the subordinate may be subjected to a toxic work environment if the relationship were to end which could expose the business to legal claims.”

Managers dating subordinates can also lead to conflicts of interest since they might give their underlings special treatment. Likewise, an employee engaging in a relationship with a client could result in giving the client better deals or service.

In recent headlines, Jeff Zucker, president of CNN, resigned earlier this month over a romantic relationship with a subordinate employee that he failed to disclose to management as per company policy.

Andrew Caldwell, HR advisory manager at Peninsula Canada, recommends that companies have an office romance policy with clear and comprehensive guidelines.

“This policy can include guidelines such as banning senior and delegate relationships, requiring disclosure of relationships, or for seniors to move positions when such relationships develop,” Caldwell says. He adds that employees should be made to sign and date the policy to serve as evidence they know and understand the guidelines.

Employers have two options if an employee has breached its office romance policy. One is termination, since employees can generally be terminated without cause at any time for any reason, save for discriminatory reasons.

With such a tight labor market, however, employers may find it suitable to take a more lenient approach if the relationship in question does not cause conflicts of interest and does not negatively affect business interests.

“Good employees are hard to come by and replacing these valuable staff members takes time and creates additional hiring and training costs for the employer,” Cicchini notes. “Before taking any drastic measures such as termination, the employer should consider finding a way to accommodate the relationship so that it works for everyone. Examples of how to do this may be separating the employees’ work stations if they work close to each other to decrease distraction or making minor changes to teams or reporting structures to create some separation.”