Office romance has become quite common in our modern workplace. Although romantic relationships between coworkers may proceed without incident, the complications with office romance may sometimes create legal risks for employers. This is particularly true for relationships between supervisors and subordinates which may give the impression that employment decisions are based on factors other than merit. Showing a preference for a love interest or paramour has been rejected as basis for legal claims of discrimination or harassment, however claims such as systematic favoritism and sexual harassment have long been recognized as legitimate causes of action.
Although some employers ban office romance, a complete prohibition can be a challenging rule to enforce. It has been shown that employers with well-drafted workplace romance policies are generally in a better position to defend against discrimination, harassment, and favoritism claims than employers that don’t. Therefore, an employer’s first step in minimizing risks and protecting itself against such claims is to address workplace romance issues through realistic and consistently-enforced policies and practices. In some instances where a company becomes aware of a consensual relationship between employees, a “love contract” can also be an effective way to mitigate potential negative consequences. However, the use of love contracts does have a few drawbacks.