Spring is finally upon us and with that comes not only sunshine but the urge for employees to stretch the rules as far as they can throw a flip flop. Now is a good time dust off not only your dress code policy as it pertains to warm weather clothing but for other policies as well. Is love in the air this spring at your office? It could be and you might not even be aware of the potential pitfalls that could follow. You may want to consider a non-fraternization policy.
A non-fraternization policy oversees interpersonal conduct by employees and is created with good intent – to prevent employees from engaging in activities that could interfere with safety, employee morale, and employee productivity. In addition, these policies help to protect the employer from potential lawsuits arising from harassment claims.
Employers have the right to set rules prohibiting employees from activities including office romances. They can prohibit supervisors from getting involved with subordinates and vice versa, and they can refuse to hire married co-workers.
Relationships among employees raise issues of equity, fairness and favoritism regarding the involved employees’ work responsibilities, salary, and/or career progress. Employers may stipulate that if a conflict, disruption, or other performance problem arises as a result of such relationships, one of the involved employees may be transferred and/or disciplinary action may be imposed. But be aware that even then, future decisions regarding all employment practices (promotion, demotion, transfer, termination, rates of pay) could be viewed as discriminatory based on these relationships.
Consider the outcome of a relationship that has ended (on a negative or positive note). What was once viewed as welcomed behavior from one employee to another can change overnight and you could suddenly be involved with a hostile work environment or sexual harassment claim. By discouraging relationships or by stipulating that the company be made aware of them ahead of time, employers can proactively manage a potential problematic situation.
Your non-fraternization policy should be discussed during Harassment training. Training should also include education regarding off-site and off-hour situations. Employees who are friendly with each other and spend time together after work hours need to know that their behaviors are still subject to your policies. Happy hour at the local watering hole may lead to situations that can easily be considered against company policy.
Employees have the right to choose their friends and romantic partner, however, employers also have a right to limit romance in the workplace in order to maintain a safe, equitable and productive work environment . Consider the reason for instituting the policy, specifics on what is and isn’t acceptable and how the current social landscape is today to ensure that a new or updated policy is successful and works for your culture.