And strict policies can backfire — talented employees may choose love over a job and leave.
Problems can also arise when employees want to date clients or vendors.
“If you’re in a billion-dollar business, you can weather those problems, but I can’t,” she says.
Hunter is especially sensitive to issues around dating co-workers, having been in a romantic relationship with her chief financial officer for three years.
Jacqueline Breslin, an executive with HR provider Tri Net, is fielding more questions from businesses that want to know how to handle employees dating.
The first step is often to determine whether companies have policies on dating and sexual harassment; if not, they need to be written.
But a heightened awareness about sexual harassment means small business owners can get more anxious when employees start dating.He’s worked at the company for nine months, and everyone at the company knows of their relationship.One option for owners is to have dating staffers sign what’s called a relationship contract, stating they’re in a consensual relationship and that they’ve read and will abide by the company’s written policy on sexual harassment.“We did this mainly to protect ourselves” in the event of a breakup, says Kate Hickey, who was an attorney and drafted the contract. If a similar situation arises again, Hickey says she would probably consult an attorney who has more expertise about sexual harassment and draft a “more detailed” contract.Many bosses may not even be aware of a relationship until someone mentions it.Those relationships have the potential for conflicts-of-interest as well as harassment issues.Ashley Hunter’s dating policy rules out relationships between her eight staffers and vendors of HM Risk Group, an insurance company based in Austin, Texas.He decided against changing his policy that allows dating, but he’s keeping a closer eye on interactions between employees.“When I know staffers are dating, I speak to each of them in private and just try to understand the situation,” says Musovic, who owns Sojourn, Vero Bar and Selena Rosa.HR professionals say an owner should approach the couple, discuss the situation, and if the company requires a relationship contract, have them sign it.More complicated is when an owner suspects there’s an attraction or budding relationship — when’s the right time to step in?