Walt Disney in 1938 told his employees
“Never dip your pen into the company’s ink“
meaning don’t try and have romantic or sexual relationships with co-workers.
In my line of work I often get asked by employers if they should have a no-dating policy to avoid incidents of sexual harassment at workplace’. While there isn’t much research to prove that such policies are effective to curb sexual harassment at workplace in total, but it might work to the advantage of most employers.
In many organisations intimate coworker relationships are often frowned upon because of the discomfort from the tension that would drench the work environment if things were to head south. Recently,during an enquiry we learnt about an employee having a fling with one of his coworkers, discovered in a harsh way that she was not who he believed she was, and ended it. It was hellishly uncomfortable for both of them to be working in the same premise for quite a long time.
Given the fact that most startups in our country have maximum employees aged between 21 to 28, it is not uncommon that the workplace is a prime opportunity to meet someone you may eventually have a romantic interest in. For you’ve already got something in common and you can get to know one another quickly. And as companies grow and add employees, you will often see signs of budding workplace relationships. This can be especially true in high-growth companies that demand long work hours and tend to hire more single employees.
In my experience on why the employers look for a no-dating policy, I have come to realise that some HR leaders are prone to theorising it as -‘If dating is allowed, it may foster an environment where more activity occurs that could give rise to a harassment claim. For example, if someone in a supervisory position requests dates as a prerequisite for positive performance reviews, that would be sexual harassment. Additionally, if a regular relationship ends, it could result in a situation where one former partner could possibly allege harassment against the other. Even regular relationship activities can create an atmosphere that promotes harassment of others’. Most workspace relationships can also lead to retaliatory behaviour form one of the parties.
The West has even come up with a “Love Contract” where employees are required to disclose their relationships and sign a Dating Agreement. Their purpose is to mitigate risk by affirming that a romance is consensual—in theory, staving off harassment claims.
While a no-dating policy does not guarantee a ‘no sexual harassment scenario’ , employers are free, legally to adopt such policies.It could range from prohibiting couples from working together directly, such as in the same department to limiting the prohibition to only those relationships in which one romantic partner has a role of authority over the other. These could work towards minimising risks of retaliatory behaviour, favouritism, discrimination.
In the event, an employer chooses to adopt a ‘no-dating’ Policy, the same needs to be communicated to the employees. The employees need to be inducted with the protocol to be followed, the disclosures to be made to the Human Resource department, the importance of consent of each individual, and the consequences of not informing or following the protocol.
However, if an employer opts to implement any such dating policy, it’s important to enforce it fairly and consistently—not in a way that discriminates. For example, if an employer’s policy dictates that one of the partners must leave the organization if a relationship is discovered, it cannot always be the woman who is forced to leave. That would be discriminatory.
The materials on this web site have been prepared by Serein Inc. for informational purposes only and are not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. Reader should not rely or act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.
Serein Inc is an end to end service partner for the implementation of Prevention of Sexual Harassment (POSH) legal compliance. We partner with companies on case redressal and policies to proactively build safer work cultures and sexual harassment (POSH) trainings either in person or virtually. For more details on diversity, inclusion and prevention of sexual harassment (POSH training in India and the US). For more information on how to conduct a fair, timely and legally sound POSH enquiry process