Is it Smart to Date at Work in Pennsylvania?

While the workplace may seem like an easy place to meet interesting people in your age group to date, you may ask: Is it Smart to Date at Work in Pennsylvania.  In my opinion, No, it is certainly not smart to date in the workplace in Pennsylvania.  I can remember one of my first jobs was working over Christmas break on a mailing project when I was about 14.  I was smitten with a girl I was working with and mentioned it to my parents.  My father immediately replied, “You never s**t where you eat son.”  He explained that keeping a job is vital to meet your financial obligations, therefore, do not jeopardize it with a romantic relationship; find love elsewhere.

Issues and risks surrounding dating in the workplace exist for both employer and employee.  Dating at work impacts the employer in matters such as work productivity, distractions, gossip, and workplace tension; or in more serious matters of sexual harassment/assault allegations, nepotism, favoritism, and hostile work environment.  For the employee, it can create the risk of job loss, allegations of sexual harassment/assault, being the victim of sexual harassment, stalking, and tension/stress in the work environment if the relationship does not work out.  All reasons why it is not smart to date at work in Pennsylvania.

Employment and discrimination laws create no protection for dating and relationships at work.  Therefore, employers are permitted to protect themselves from the risks associated with workplace dating in many ways.

To determine how your employer addresses romantic relationships, you should first look at the company’s employee handbook.  Examples are:

1. An employer may simply ban all workplace romantic relationships with the consequence of employment termination if discovered.

2. Employers may allow relationships, but require the relationship be disclosed to Human Resources so the company may determine what actions if any are needed to protect the employer’s liability.

3. Employers may add language that allows relationships if the employees involved have no supervisory role over each other.

4. Employers may have the employees in a romantic relationship sign releases or waivers of claims against the company related to the relationship; these are sometimes referred to as “love contracts”

An issue with dating at work is when one employee supervises the other employee in some way.  This can lead to acts or claims of, favoritism in raises, promotions, projects, job titles, and other benefits.  Therefore, some employers upon learning of the romantic relationship may move one of the employees to another division or business unit or have them report to another manager.  If the company is small or moving the reporting line of the employee is not an option, the employer is in its right to demand the relationship end or that one of the employees seek employment elsewhere.

The major concern for employers is the risk of workplace romance creating claims and lawsuits pertaining to sexual harassment and assault, as well as hostile work environment and sex-based discrimination.  If the relationship fails or ends on a negative note, the employer may face harassment claims and lawsuits, distracting and harmful tension in the workplace, stalking allegations or abuse outside of the workplace pertaining to one of the employees, and having to navigate a Protection from Abuse orders in the workplace.  For sexual harassment claims and lawsuits, the employer faces the hurdle of proving the relationship was consensual.  Many times, employees will argue that the relationship, while appearing consensual, was not; that the relationship occurred to keep a job or advance in the company.  Even if a relationship was initially consensual if the romance goes sour the risk of unwelcome advances, stalking/harassment, and predatory behavior in the workplace arises.

It is the threat of these scenarios that lead to policies and practices where employers discourage and/or ban workplace romance.  Again, why it is not smart to date at work in Pennsylvania.

Employers can take many actions to protect themselves and employees can do their best to make smart decisions.  However, rules around dating are extremely difficult for employers to enforce, and it is hard for employees if they begin to have romantic feelings toward another employee.  The workplace is a very convenient and natural setting for people to develop romantic relationships.

From my years of experience in this employment law and human resources, I offer the following advice:

For employers – have a well-written policy that outlines for employees what you expect from them regarding romantic relationships.  Ensure that if you permit them, you do not leave yourself exposed to possible claims of lawsuits down the road.  If you do not have a relationship policy, I would be happy to work on drafting one for your company.

For employees – if possible, find love somewhere other than at work.  It complicates things for you, for the other employee, and you are not protected by law.  Your employer can discipline you or terminate you or the other employee.  Familiarize yourself with your company’s policy on romantic relationships and ask HR if you are unclear on its meaning.

If you are an employer or employee faced with a work issue pertaining to dating at work in Pennsylvania, you should consult with a trusted and experienced Employment Law Attorney who is versed in these matters as well as the best Human Resources practices.