Office Romances – Management, Legal Consequences, and if It Is Still a Thing

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Yes, the pandemic has left organizations with more pressing issues to deal with than something like office romances. 

This also brings us to the question – “Are office romances still a thing?” 

Some relationships are bound to happen and office romances are one of them. However, the switch from cubicles to remote-working and water cooler gossips to 40-minute zoom chats barely leaves a room for romantic relationships to nurture. But yes, there is a decline. The current pandemic might have slowed the traditional methodology, but office romances aren’t dead yet, and so aren’t its legal consequences. 

Lockdown might have made forming new relationships difficult, but that doesn’t mean HR leaders should forgo the laws around it. 

ALSO READ: Here’s Answers to the Most Common Returning-to-Work Questions

Office romance management

Office romances come with its own side effects. If it is between a manager and her/his subordinate, colleagues may blame the manager of favoritism. If it happens between colleagues, managers may get objective about their performance. Things get even worse when couples break up. A bad relationship history can reflect badly during team meetings and other events of collaboration, thereby making it awkward for the rest of the group. 

HRs must strive to make workplace romances a driver of growth and positivity in the organization. They can achieve this by having policies that discourage relationships where it is most likely to cause future troubles.

Legal consequences of workplace romances

HRs must be ready with answers to consequences arising out of strained office romances, such as:

  • Compensations based on mental stress, arising from harassment
  • Constructive dismissal criticism, arising from a toxic work environment
  • Grievances, arising from unionized workplaces
  • Human rights complains, arising from intentional action of torture and mental distress

Michelle McKinnon, Associate at a law firm explains, “Although an employer generally cannot prohibit romantic relationships in the workplace, or otherwise direct employees in relation to their personal relationships, an employer has a legitimate interest in managing conflicts of interest and the risks associated with sexual harassment.”

Are office romances still a thing?

Office romances were in decline even before the pandemic. In 2017, 11% of people met their partner at work. This figure was 19% in 1995. Blame it on poor work-life balance or the evolution in people’s priorities, the concept of meeting life-partners at work is slowly fading away.

Campaigns like the #MeToo movement has demonstrated how people often use power and position to harass women in the workplace. 

Another bad stain on workplace romances was given by McDonald’s last fall when they fired Steve Easterbook, Chief Executive Officer, for having an intimate relationship with a subordinate.

The pandemic may have put a halt to office romances, but not for long. Once companies go back to opening normally, eyes will meet again – maybe across the hand sanitizing station this time instead of cafeteria or copier machines. 

Having an unambiguous and clear work policy around office romances will keep both, employers and employees free from unwanted troubles. 


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