February 1, 2021

Romance in the Workplace

Even during a pandemic, love can find a way. And unfortunately for cities, sometimes that love can come in the form of employee relationships. So what is an employer to do about these situations?

Some employers may choose to enact policies that completely ban romantic relationships in the workplace, but even this is not without its own set of issues. By completely banning, you may compel employees that are in a romantic relationship to hide it, which leaves the city oblivious to and unprepared for the issues that may result.

Other employers may choose to allow workplace romances to happen as long as there is disclosure, which can create problems of its own. Many employees will perceive that preferential treatment is being received by a coworker based on their relationship, especially when one is in a supervisory role over the other.

Regardless of the policy that your city enacts, you need to review your ethics ordinance and personnel policies to see what they address about employee and supervisory relationships. In addition, does this relationship create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest, and is it the subject of office gossip? Any relationship, whether casual or romantic, should not have a negative impact on city business. And finally, if love turns sour, an employee can claim retaliation and harassment based on the previous relationship, which along with many other problems, may prove costly in court.

So how can the city protect itself from love gone wrong?

  • First, have a clearly written policy with expectations outlined in a format that is easy to read and understand. KLC recommends that those in supervisory positions should not be allowed to date subordinates under any circumstances.
  • Second, if your city ethics ordinance applies to city employees, and your nepotism policy applies to dating relationships, be certain that it is also included in the personnel policy.
  • Next, make sure that your sexual harassment policy is up to date, has a clearly established complaint procedure including alternate avenues for an employee to make complaints and that all employees and supervisors are trained on what the policy states and what it requires.
  • Lastly, if your city has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), provide your employees with information on the program in a variety of ways, so that they know there is somewhere to go if and when these relationships go south.

Running a city is not all champagne and roses, so you need to protect the city by being proactive. One way to do this is by having a current and legally compliant personnel policy. If your city needs to update its personnel policies you need to work with someone who has expertise in personnel law, human resources, and municipal law. KLC can offer this expertise in a way that is specific to your city’s needs. Whether it is creating or reviewing city personnel policies, providing training on your city policies, sexual harassment, or on a variety of specialized HR topics, we have you covered. For more information on this service or any other personnel-related matters, contact Andrea Shindlebower Main, Personnel Services Manager or Justin Hocking, Personnel Services Attorney.