Denver, CO- Many relationships begin and end in the workplace. In past studies 40 to 47 percent of respondents said they have been involved in at least one office romance, according to Psychology Today. It makes sense since most people spend almost as many hours at work as they do at home. But for employers this can create a sexual harassment disaster and businesses should develop policies to shield them from liability.

What Can Go Wrong?

As an employer you may be asking what could possibly go wrong that would make me vulnerable to a lawsuit. The answer is simple, a lot can go wrong.

In the best case, relationships in the workplace can begin and be long-lasting. If it must end then an employer’s best hope is both parties call it quits without issue or drama. But when a supervisor dates a subordinate or the end of relationship is less than agreeable, an employer is exposing themselves to potential liability.

Most employers allow their employees to date, but generally frown upon relationships between supervisors and subordinates. There is a good reason for that, if the relationship fails and there is a level of bitterness, one of the parties can claim the relationship was not consensual. Either party can claim they were coerced into the relationship to keep their job or retaliated against if they are given an unfavorable and could have the grounds to file a sexual harassment suit against their employer.

When the relationship between two equal employees falls apart, the interactions between the two parties have the potential to become contentious and rife with tension. One of the parties can claim that the workplace has become hostile and they may threaten to file a civil suit.

The EEOC receives approximately 30,000 complaints of sexual harassment and discrimination on an annual basis so employers must take steps to avoid any such allegations.

What Should and Employer Do?

Some employers have an outright ban on office romances and that is usually due to the fact they had past experiences. Such restrictive policies may not be good for employee morale and is in contrast to the culture of the workplace.

If an employer does not wish to forbid inter-office relationships they need to set down some ground rules. They can have the employees agree to report their relationship to the human resources head of the company. By giving human resources this notification, the employee is stating the relationship is consensual and the company has a record of the nature of the relationship. Thereby it will be hard to make a non-consensual claim down the road. Human resources can also require that both parties notify them when the relationship ends.

By requiring a consensual relationship agreement, a company can shield themselves from any future liability. When an employee is willing to comply with the agreement, an employer can reaffirm the sexual harassment policies and outline their expectations such as no outward displays or resentment or anger.

When an employer is unsure of how to approach office relationship policies, they should consult with a sexual harassment attorney. They can clarify federal guidelines and guided a business to the policy that will best suit their needs.