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Susan M. Heathfield

Why You Need a Fraternization Policy

By November 6, 2013

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Do you think you need a fraternization policy? Also called a dating policy, a workplace romance policy, or a non-fraternization policy, I've avoided them because I believe that an employee's private life is just that - private. Here's the problem.

Employees want some direction about what is acceptable workplace behavior. They don't want to unknowingly cross some secret boundary and injure their workplace status and career.

And, a fraternization policy is even more significant for employers. Some employee behavior is inappropriate and your employees need to be informed of and trained in inappropriate behavior before you can take action to deal with a situation that affects your workplace.

You would think that employee friendships and employee romantic relationships are private and only affect the private lives of employees. If you think this, you are wrong.

Over my years of consulting with clients, I have experienced dating couples screaming at each other or arguing in the middle of the workplace - at the top of their lungs. I have experienced employees getting restraining orders on a former romantic attachment. Try to deal with that in a work place where both work. Managers dating or romantically involved with a reporting staff member is never good - for the company, the manager, the employee or his or her coworkers. Bad news all around.

I have even dealt with a sexual harassment suit for an affair that began as a consensual relationship, but for reasons too convoluted to relate here, became a legitimate claim when the employer unknowingly changed the reporting relationship. Heck, a California court decided that a boss-reporting staff member relationship amounted to sexual harassment for the employee's coworkers.

And, you don't even want to hear about the impact of extramarital affairs on the interaction of affected families with coworkers, the workplace, or employee gatherings and events; it is never positive or happy.

These are the big issues and they do not even take into consideration the day-to-day nonsense of stolen kisses, giggling in meetings, and time on IMs and chatting. Sometimes, when I think about it, it is not a wonder to me that some employers prohibit employee fraternization. I am not in that camp.

But, I do believe that an employee-friendly, specific fraternization policy is necessary to spell out the limits and parameters in today's workplace. Here's my recommended fraternization policy that attempts to honor the rights of both employees and employers. Please let me know what you think.

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Related to Fraternization Policy

November 6, 2013 at 10:26 am
(1) Lynn Ferguson-Pinet says:

Excellent policy, it spells out the rationale behind both the policy and the need. The only challenge I have is it also refers to any close friendship. I believe the intention is around romantic relationships. However, close friendships can also be seen as favouritism, so I think its important to spell out the boundaries and issues separately.


January 25, 2014 at 1:12 am
(2) Jacque says:

If two people are friends and become co-workers and one gets a promotion, should they let their friendship drop or decline the promotion?

February 25, 2014 at 8:38 pm
(3) Wendy Evans says:

Completely agree. Have investigated hundreds of cases, many as you describe–relationships that start consensual and then the internal investigator is looking into “harassment” allegations. Passwords shared by once-lovers and now feuding co-workers, all sorts of issues when domestic affairs (so to speak) spill over at work.

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