We spend more than a third of our lives in the office so it's not surprising that office romances are common. I know quite a few people, in fact, who met their future spouses at the office. Those are the happy endings. But for every one of those, there are probably 20 that ended not so happily. In fact, in particularly bad instances, soured office romances can end up on the legal arena, bringing their companies with them.Companies have tried in the past to ban dating between employees but found that the restrictions are not always legal. So they've attempted to restrict dating in instances when it could be harmful to the business (where one party can claim sexual discrimination or harassment against another). For example, companies can mandate that those who date cannot report to one or the other, a situation that could result in career favors or the perception of career favors.
But one thing that companies (and indeed the employees who date each other) have little control over is how to handle an office romance that goes bad. I blogged a while back about when I once, as a manager, had to deal with the fallout of an office romance. It's not fun for anyone involved and it can put a company in a bad legal situation if it doesn't respond properly to any complaints regarding what's happening between two formerly dating employees.
Of course, this is one of those dicey situations that requires a good deal of common sense and objectivity. Ironically, when a romance goes bad, those are two of the first qualities to hit the dust. Some people who deal with HR issues think that the pain of failed relationships can be alleviated by the use of "love contracts." I found a sample love contract that makes pre-nups feel like dinner and a movie. It contains the line:
It is very important to me that our relationship be on an equal footing and that you be fully comfortable that our relationship is at all times fully voluntary and welcome.
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Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.