Recently a professional reached out to me asking “How close is too close?” referring to relationships between managers and direct reports or subordinations within an organization.
According to the professional, in his organization, romantic relationships between managers and their direct reports or other subordinates were creating all kind of low morale problems.
I asked him what his ideal scenario would be, and his response was for people to separate what goes on in their private lives from what goes on in their work lives. This scenario is becoming increasing difficult because the number of hours people spend at work their social lives in many cases are limited to the people they meet on the job. Secondly, more organizations are thriving to creating a familial atmosphere at work and this often ends up creating more informalities than formalities which lead to relationships forming. Thirdly, people are people, they are always going to find other people they are attracted to or desirable. As a matter of fact, “according to
the survey, produced by job site Vault.com, 58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague. A surprising 72% of those over 50 years old have been romantically involved with a co-worker. These 6 Surprising Office Romance Stats Should Be A Wake-
Up Call For Organizations (forbes.com)
I asked him how he felt about a no-fraternization/anti-fraternization policy and went on to discuss some of the pros and cons of such policies. Companies establish no-fraternization policies or the no dating policies that limit or prohibit consensual, intimate relationships between employees to protect against employees’ lawsuits or to reduce low morale brought about because of an imbalance of power, favouritisms, and nepotism, etc. These policies vary from one organization to another. For example, Company A may have a policy that prohibits dating between managers and non-management employees throughout the organization, prohibit relationships only between managers and their direct reports or prohibit fraternization among all employees irrespective of their position. Company B, on the other hand may opt for what is called a “consensual relationship policy.” With this policy, relationships are allowed, however, employees are required to disclose them and sign an agreement outlining acceptable workplace conduct.
In today’s article we begin to look at the pros of an anti-fraternization policy. The excerpt below is from a Harvard Law School Forum on Corporate Governance in an article titled “Companies’ Anti-Fraternization Policies: Key Considerations”. Posted by Arthur H. Kohn, Jennifer Kennedy Park, and Armine Sanamyan, Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP.
“On the “pro” side, adopting an anti-fraternization policy…
Sends a message against sexual harassment: The most obvious concern raised by workplace relationships among subordinates and supervisors is that, in light of the inherent imbalance of power, such relationships may not be, or remain, consensual and welcome, notwithstanding appearances. As the #MeToo movement has prominently brought to light, a subordinate may not feel comfortable saying “no” to a supervisor, instead acquiescing to the relationship out of fear of adverse employment action. Thus, what on the surface may appear to be a welcome relationship may in fact constitute sexual harassment from the perspective of the subordinate. Instituting a policy addressing such relationships sends a message to employees—of all seniority—that the company is cognizant of these risks and takes them seriously enough to act pre-emptively. Such a policy can thus serve as an important complement to a company’s policies against sexual harassment.
Mitigates legal risk: When and if a relationship ends, the employer may have derivative legal exposure for the conduct of the employees involved in the relationship, including if the subordinate claims that the relationship was the result of an unwelcome advance or if post-relationship contact between the individuals is acrimonious. Prohibiting the relationship should mitigate that risk.
Avoids certain toxic work environment situations: A relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate also raises the risk of actual and/or perceived favouritism. In the case of actual favouritism, such conduct exposes the employer to claims of discrimination or sexual harassment in the form of a hostile work environment (e.g., other employees may claim that a quid pro quo is the only way to get ahead). Moreover, whether the favouritism is actual or perceived, it may reduce the productivity of other employees, who may feel that their contributions are going unnoticed and thus may become disengaged. The productivity of the two employees involved in the relationship may likewise suffer, to the extent they pursue the relationship during work hours.”
Join us again next week as we continue to discus the pros and cons of an anti-fraternization policy.
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