Office romance. It happens. As an HR Professionals I would prefer that romance in the workplace was eradicated and we all worked in a platonic utopia full of sunshine and smiles, but unfortunately we all must endure the consequences (and employer liability) of being a human.
We spend 8 hours a day, five days a week with our coworkers and develop both professional and personal connections with our colleagues. It is not uncommon that friendships between co-workers evolve into something more, and with the advent technology, it’s much easier to stay in constant communication with the cubical cutie in the next bull pen.
Workplace romance can now stretch to include “digital” romantic relationships, which, for many companies, can be uncharted waters. Sending a sext (sexy text) to a coworker, even when it is consensual back-and-forth sexting, can create issues that both employees and employers often times do not consider. First, employees are often not aware of the Company’s workplace romance policy and if it requires disclosing all romantic relationships. Additionally, employees often times don’t consider “sexting” with a cute coworker a “relationship” and do not think it is something they need to disclose. On the other hand, if the sexting is not consensual, of course that can create sexual harassment. Even if the text messages are sent outside of work hours, sending inappropriate text messages to co-workers can create a severe and pervasive hostile work environment.
Sending a sext from behind the protection of a screen can distance employees from the idea that they are, in fact, involved in a consensual sexual relationship and all the potential consequences that come with being involved in such a workplace relationship. In addition, employees are potentially putting themselves in a situation where a sexual harassment claim could be made if the sexts are unwanted or the relationship goes sour.
What can Employers Do?
When Employers encounter sexting and other romantic relationships in the workplace, the first instinct of many business owners and HR professionals may be to ban all workplace romances. The issue with this is that it is difficult to enforce and will only make employees hide their relationships. The best route is to address the biggest issue that results from work place romance: conflicts of interest.
Conflicts of interest result mainly from supervisor/subordinate relationships and employee/client relationships. One of the obvious concerns is sexual harassment and favoritism, but in general, when a relationship can effect business decisions and or confidentiality, employers have legitimate business reason to restricting the types of personal relationships employees can have. Encouraging employees to report these types of relationships can allow the company to make the necessary changes in order to avoid conflicts of interest.
It’s also important that sexual harassment and personal relationship and fraternization policies include all forms of communication including social media, email, and texting so employees are not confused about what is/is not a romantic and/or sexual relationship
Revising policies and training staff on these polices, will help protect both employees and employers from the fallout of forbidden workplace love.