Social sites for dating in the workplace

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    Cultural attitudes seem to be changing toward in-office romance. Here's a breakdown of the legal ramifications of making and breaking a company policy.

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    LegalZoom As the old saying goes "you don't dip your pen in the company ink. Is this age-old adage becoming extinct? If you believe the stats of new employees entering the workforce, it might seem so. But a lot of companies don't let the rank and file decide--they adopt policies that ban or limit workplace dating--all in the name of lowering liability.

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    Enforcing these policies can take their toll on a company. Just last month, Gary Friedman, the chief executive of Restoration Hardware, stepped down in the middle of the company's public offering. Friedman was not married, so there was no affair. She didn't even work there anymore!

    Earlier this year, Best Buy's chief executive, Brian Dunn, stepped down after an investigation by the board discovered he had shown "extremely poor judgment" with a year-old female employee. A couple years ago, Hewlett-Packard's chief executive, Mike Hurd, resigned amid accusations of falsifying expense reports to hide a personal relationship with an independent contractor. 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. When your routine is work-sleep-work, going out to date does not seem like a real option for many.

    According to the CareerBuilder survey, some industries are more prone to inter-office dating than others. Hospitality, Financial Services, Transportation and Utilities, Information Technology, and Health Services all topped the list as having higher than average office dating. As a business owner, you might ask: The legal issue is what I like to call the "amplification" of potential liability that always exists around the employer-employee relationship.

    There will foreseeably be claims of favoritism, or even discrimination or harassment. When a workplace romance sours, it can expose the company to increased liability, since the connection between alleged actors is easier to establish--essentially giving the plaintiff some good ammunition for his or her case.

    Relationships between supervisors and subordinates create even more potential problems. In a better scenario, coworkers would find it easier to claim that an employee received preferential treatment from a supervisor he or she is dating. In a poorer scenario, the relationship would end badly, one of the employees could claim that the relationship was non-consensual, or that sexual harassment existed. An employee could even make a case for unlawful retaliation if he or she receives a poor performance review from a former lover or if a co-worker receives a better evaluation from his or her boss.

    There are a few different ways to manage this liability. When it comes to workplace dating policies, here are a few basic options: You can do nothing.

    This seems to be the overwhelming favorite for smaller companies or companies that are just starting to formalize employee training. Often a CEO or president will look at the potential for risk and weigh that against the ability to police and enforce a policy. For many smaller companies, they choose to go without a policy, and let the rules on harassment and discrimination do the job. Note that you should always have a policy prohibiting and enforcing sexual harassment and discrimination.

    You can ban it. This is another common method, known as an "anti-fraternization policy. You have to define and often describe the conduct you want to prohibit.


    Will the policy restrict casual dating, relationships, romantic involvement, or socializing? Can you even define those terms? I can tell you that the last place you want a policy defined is in the courts. A less restrictive policy that a lot of companies have is one preventing nepotism--prohibiting spouses or relatives from working at the same company or preventing employees from supervising related coworkers.

    You can allow it, with written disclosure. This is commonly known as the "Love Contract" approach.

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    A signed document will confirm a consensual relationship and provide additional notice of understanding of the sexual harassment policy. You can often use the contract process to outline expected behavior like no "PDA"--public displays of affection--at work or retaliation if the relationship ends.

    Make sure that you inform the employees that they have a right to and should talk to a lawyer before signing. You can allow it, but never within the chain of authority. While this policy is easier to sell to employees most are not inside each other's reporting chainyou still have a lot of the same problems about defining conduct and what is not allowed.

    You can also have employees report a romantic relationship to a company representative, like an HR official. Having information up front will allow you to better respond to complaints of discrimination or favoritism. Make sure that your HR representatives understand they can't disclose the existence of the relationship to anyone unless it's necessary to respond to complaints.

    Generally, policies cover not only employees, but also contractors, vendors, suppliers, manufacturers, and the like. Essentially, any relationship between two people that could have a negative effect on the company if things sour, or if one party is able to improperly influence the other would fall under the policy.

    One last generally acceptable rule: Even if it does not violate a written policy, your boss the CEO or the board might not care, and view it as a lack of senior management acumen. Think of it this way: Is the potential relationship worth risking your good job or name?

    I tend to sound like a broken record when it comes to company policies. So here it goes again: In my opinion, failure to equitably enforce a corporate policy is often worse than not having one. Sep 18, More from Inc.
    Social media usage is now ubiquitous: Facebook users spend more than LinkedIn has more than million members in over countries and territories. Twitter has million active users who collectively post million Tweets every day.

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    This is an ever-increasing area of litigation. Beyond the content of social media posts, there is also the loss of work time. Thus, employers need to deal with three discrete concerns: To assist you in making responsible decisions about your use of social media, we have established these guidelines for appropriate use of social media. This policy applies to all employees. You are entirely responsible for what you post online. Before creating online content, consider some of the risks and rewards that are involved.

    Know and follow the rules: Inappropriate postings that may include discriminatory remarks, harassment, and threats of violence or similar inappropriate or unlawful conduct will not be tolerated and may subject you to disciplinary action up to and including termination. You should always be courteous to fellow employees, clients, customers, vendors, and suppliers.

    You are more likely to resolve work problems by speaking directly with your co-workers or supervisor s than by posting complaints on social media. Nevertheless, if you decide to post complaints or criticism, avoid using statements, photographs, video or audio that are malicious, obscene, threatening or intimidating, that disparage employees, clients, customers, vendors or suppliers, or that might constitute harassment or bullying.

    Make sure you are always honest and accurate when posting information or news, and if you make a mistake, correct it quickly. Never post any information or rumors that you know to be false about company, fellow employees, consultants, clients, customers, vendors, suppliers or competitors.

    All content posted should be appropriate and respectful: Maintain the confidentiality of company trade secrets and confidential information. Trade secrets may include information regarding the development of systems, processes, products, know-how and technology. Do not post internal reports, policies, procedures or other internal business-related confidential communications. Do not create a link from your blog, website or other social networking site to a company website without identifying yourself as a company employee.

    Social media at work: Do not use social media while at work or on company equipment, unless it is work-related and authorized. Do not use your company email to register on blogs, social networks, or other forms of social media. Do not represent yourself as a spokesperson for the company. If the company is a subject of the content you are creating, be clear and open about the fact that you are an employee and clarify that your views do not represent those of the company, fellow associates, members, customers, suppliers or people working on behalf of the company.

    If you do publish a blog or post online related to the work you do or subjects associated with the company, clarify that you are not speaking on behalf of the company. The company prohibits taking adverse action against any employee for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation. Any employee who retaliates against another employee for reporting a possible deviation from this policy or for cooperating in an investigation will be subject to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.

    Here is my counter policy and explanation: Work time is for work. Posting or reading online when you should be working is like sleeping at work: Social media may not even need a separate policy. There is no need to have a second floor policy nor a telephone policy: I completely disagree with you on this one.

    This should be addressed in policies rather than sticking our heads in the sand. My policy does and solves the legal problem. You are a damn neo-Luddite. Employers must be aware that there is that risk if they are going to address social media use by their workforce in a robust manner.

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    Employers must weigh the benefits of a carefully crafted social media policy that can protect their interests in the new, constantly connected world, versus the risk that the NLRB may come knocking. Read More Stay Connected.
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    When it comes to meeting people, the office is the new village. Office relationships often also rise out of office friendships, in which mutual trust is already present. He argues that co-worker couples spend more time at work, take fewer sick days, and are less likely to quit.

    So why does office romance get a bad rep?

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    When a workplace relationship goes south, the parties involved must still see each other every day in the office. This can lead to awkward encounters, and the potential for claims of sexual harassment and retaliation. Retaliation can take many forms: A romantic relationship between a supervisor and subordinate provides the potential for a conflict and the opportunity for the employer to require a love contract. Lieberan employment law attorney and founder of Workplace Answers.

    Establish an employee dating policy. When designing the policy, choose between full freedom, freedom with restrictions, or freedom with disclosure. No one wants to feel policed, so keep the employee dating policy focused on the specific behaviors that disrupt the office vs.

    Broadcast your sexual harassment policy. Have a formal sexual harassment policy posted in the office and included in your employee handbook. Train employees that the company has zero tolerance for sexual harassment, and require employees to sign a document indicating they understand the policy.

    Additionally, use of love contracts is a way to mitigate risk of sexual harassment liability. Train managers and supervisors. Managers and supervisors should be comfortable coaching co-worker couples if their behavior results in low morale or productivity. They should apply policy consistently and take measures to avoid real or perceived favoritism. In some states, the interpretation of sexual harassment laws includes third parties: If an employee views a supervisor as favoring a subordinate, the employee can sue the company.

    Encourage transparency and squash gossip. Office relationships often inspire gossip, which can impede productivity and damage careers. Promote an open, transparent environment, so that employees are less inclined to hide their relationships—and coworkers are less likely to gossip.

    Make it easy to report inappropriate activity. Sexual comments and disruptive behavior can render a workplace uncomfortable and unproductive. Employees should feel OK reporting activity that puts the company at risk.

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    Lawsuits brought by employees against their employers are on the rise, and small businesses are not immune. An EPLI endorsement to a small business commercial policy can help protect businesses in the case of a retaliation lawsuit. Ask your broker if EPLI is right for you. About Sprout Jeremy "Sprout" Brautman is a writer, problem solver, and big fan of growth. When he's not trying to solve problems to help small businesses grow, he can be found developing amenities to increase occupancy at his urban Ladybug Hotel.

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