Workforce.com

Employers Need Solid Office Romance Policies

June 1, 2007
The financial institution was unaware of the affair between the VP and the department head—until it got a call from the VP’s wife, says Vivian Caldera, a human resource specialist who worked for the company at the time.

    "It was a difficult decision because we had two top performers in the office itself, but because of the situation and the liability it could have created, we chose immediately to separate the two" through a transfer, in accordance with the firm’s policy, says Caldera, who declined to name the company.

    Ultimately, the VP reconciled with his wife, says Caldera, who is a member of Los Angeles-based Employers Group, a human resource consulting organization.

    Many experts recommend a similar strategy when learning of an office relationship, particularly between a supervisor and a subordinate.

    "The only policy we have is that you can’t have someone who is either related to you or in a significant relationship with you as a direct report," said Kelly M. Lonsberry, senior associate administrator, human resources, at the 1,400-employee Watson Clinic LLP in Lakeland, Florida.

    At Newegg Inc., a consumer electronics Internet company with 850 employees, supervisors and subordinates in romantic relationships are required to not only report the relationship, but to let the company know when it changes, such as when it ends or is no longer consensual, says Peggy Krynicki, director of human resources for the company, which is based in City of Industry, California.

    This is to alert the company to the possibility of subsequent sexual harassment, says Krynicki, a member of the Employers Group. If the employees do not follow the reporting guidelines, they can be subject to disciplinary action.

    Howard Leach, manager of human resources at Logan Aluminum Co. in Russellville, Kentucky, says his company has anti-sexual harassment policies, but no formal written policy covering romances in the workplace. However, in training, "We in¬struct and encourage our supervisors not to have any kind of a relationship with people that they supervise directly," Leach says.