Dealing with Fraternizing in the Workplace

Your employees often work in teams, allowing them to build relationships with each other. They would spend time with co-workers as much as they do with their families. Close relationships among them foster enhanced efficiency and communication. These also make sense because the commonalities your staff members share, such as interests, proximity, age and similar incomes, would encourage friendships that affect the workplace positively adding to the sense of camaraderie and teamwork.

But sometimes, these relationships can also lead to indecent romances that can go awry and result in conflict at work. These can even expose your company to claims of sexual harassment.

With this in consequences in mind, it is important to deal with fraternization properly to make your employees understand where to draw the line with co-workers. Here are some useful ways to get the job done.

1. Establish a Fraternization Or Dating Policy.

This is the first and foremost thing you should do as owner or manager of the company. Remember that your employees have the freedom to develop friendships and relationships inside and out of the office as long as it does not negatively impact work. Any relationship that hinders teamwork, harmony and productivity among your employees should be addressed by implementing a progressive discipline policy.

2. Put Some Limits To Personal Relationships In The Office.

A strict exception to your policy relates to the superiors of your company. Take note that anyone employed in a managerial or supervisory role needs to abide by the rule that personal relationships with his/her subordinates may be perceived as misuse of authority, favoritism or, potentially, sexual harassment. Even if there is no improper conduct occurring, such relationship can cause gossip, dissatisfaction, hard feelings and distraction among other staff members, where it may appear to others as an inappropriate use of position or power. In addition, any fraternization case with a subordinate can affect terms and conditions of employment, such as promotions, pay raises and advancement. So, should discourage fraternization that includes dating, romantic involvement and sexual relations.

3. Point Out Which Dating Behavior Is Acceptable.

In implementing a dating policy, you should outline in the handbook what type of behavior is acceptable in the workplace. For example, you can prohibit dating altogether, but this is quite difficult to enforce effectively. And again, you should prohibit your upper management from dating people who are lower on your organizational chart, more specifically preventing managers from dating direct subordinates. By placing these rules, you will be helping protect your company from problems that arise when employees fraternize.

4. Encourage Disclosures.

According to legal bases, it is your right as business owner to ban relationships at the company. However, this is unlikely to stop your people from doing such an act. A more proactive approach would be drafting a policy that allows office romance with set boundaries. Attraction is natural in the workplace, but it is important to set up clear boundaries to issues related to sexual harassment. You can educate your employees on this matter, letting them know that appropriate workplace behavior is the key, and encourage them to be open about their relationships, which will reduce liability for you, as employer, if things go wrong.

You can order your HR department to require written disclosures, making the involved personnel officially state their relationship. As stated above, you can ban fraternization, but it is extremely difficult to enforce. It would seem great on paper, but it does not account for human conditions. Your employees would still date someone if they want as long as they do not display affection to let no one find out of the affair. This will not be good for anyone in the office and can disrupt productivity. So, it is best to keep HR departments and the supervisor well-informed to prevent your employees from spending all their time trying to hide their relationships.

For the disclosure document, it should state that that the employees involved knowingly entered the relationship consensually and were aware of their responsibilities and rights in terms of harassment.

5. Conduct Immediate Investigations For Workplace Affairs.

Whether your investigation is triggered by your own observations or by an employee’s complaint, follow up immediately. Choose an objective and appoint disinterested personnel from the HR or another department to serve as fact-finder who will conduct interviews with the involved employees and any other concerned colleague. If the investigation confirmed that a sexual affair has occurred in violation to your policy, you must take appropriate actions dictated by the rules. For instance, you can transfer those involved to different departments.

If the relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate, the investigating team or personnel should inquire further to look for more inappropriate behaviors, such as the supervisor granting job perks in return for sexual favors and the subordinate being coerced.

6. Use Proper Communication When Investigating.

Do not go out of proportion when dealing with fraternization. If you sound punitive right away at the start, things can quickly deteriorate, resulting to resentment, anger and bad morale, which can extend to the entire office.

To easily diffuse such a problem, observe proper communication. Have a meeting with the people involved and tell them you are happy for them, but they need to cool it down in the workplace. Mostly, this approach would work. Make them understand that their jobs might be put on the line if they do not comply with your instructions.

7. Keep Your Involvement Performance-Based.

As business owner or manager, it is best to stay out of your employees’ personal lives as long as their relationships are not affecting their co-workers or your business. But if these workplace romances become a problem, you should address them strictly as a work-related issue. Keep meticulous records of performance issues in case termination becomes necessary. Simply put, only address them if they are affecting job performance, and keep it professional.

Conclusion

Remember that your fraternization policy should start with a statement of purpose. It should intend to avoid misunderstandings, prevent favoritism, protect your company from sexual-harassment claims and avoid loss of morale. Lastly, it should not prevent your employees from building close personal relationships with colleagues.