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Subordinate Dating Policy

What about supervisors asking subordinates for dates? Make sure you have an up-to-date policy to address interoffice dating. HR Daily Advisor editor Stephen Bruce looks at how to handle this tricky situation.

SB: This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor. Today we have a question from Amanda in Phoenix.

She says: ‘What’s wrong with my dating my assistant? We both want to, so there’s no harassment or anything—we just want to hang out together.’

Let’s look at this situation in several layers. First of all, let’s say you do date, and you get married and live happily ever after. OK, there’s no harassment between the two of you, but even in this case there’s the issue of co-workers. They could be made uncomfortable if you are affectionate in the office. Or they could believe that they are being discriminated against because they are not sleeping with the boss. Certainly, it’s a morale problem if nothing else.

Of course, in the real world, most romances often break up after a time. So let’s say you break up, no hard feelings, no harassment, right? True, initially, but wait until something adverse happens to the subordinate—like losing out on a promotion, or not getting a bonus, or getting fired.
Now the subordinate can turn and claim that the adverse action was retaliation for breaking up.

And you’ll say, no, no, our relationship was entirely consensual, and the subordinate can say, no, it wasn’t consensual, I had no choice; I didn’t want to lose my job.

Then it’s going to be up to you to prove that the adverse action was a well-reasoned business decision, fully documented and consistent with past practice. And that’s often hard to do.

What to do? There are several steps HR can take. First, formulate a policy that prohibits supervisor/subordinate relationships.Train employees about the policy. Be sure you have a harassment reporting mechanism, so no one can say, ‘I didn’t know where to turn.’
And then, consider some sort of ‘love contract.’  One of our contributors, attorney Joseph Beachboard, a shareholder in the Los Angeles office of law firm Ogletree DeakinsHe recommends meeting individually with each individual to confirm their understanding of company policies regarding relationships, discrimination, and favoritism, and that both agree that:

  1. Our relationship is entirely voluntary.
  2. Our relationship will not have a negative impact on our work.
  3. We will not engage in any public displays of affection or other behaviors that create a hostile work environment for others or that make others uncomfortable.
  4. We will act professionally toward each other at all times, even if the relationship ends.
  5. Neither party will participate in any company decision-making processes that could affect the other’s pay, promotional opportunities, performance reviews, hours, shifts, or career
  6. We agree that, if the relationship ends, we will inform the company if we believe it is necessary to protect our rights or if the Harassment-Free Workplace Policy is violated.
  7. We agree that if the relationship ends, we will respect the other person’s decision to end the relationship. We will not retaliate against the other person, seek to resume the relationship, or engage in any other conduct toward the other person that could violate the Harassment-Free Workplace Policy. Have both parties date and sign the agreement

Amanda, good luck with all your HR challenges. This is Steve Bruce for the HR Daily Advisor