LOVE CONTRACTS IN THE WORKPLACE « Law Offices of Timothy Bowles | Top Employment Law Firm in Los Angeles


Love Contracts in the Workplace

How Employers Can Regulate Office Romance

In just about every supermarket tabloid on the shelves, there’s at least one splashy article about actors or actresses falling in love on a movie set.  In a 2009 survey by on relationships at work, 37% of U.S. employees surveyed stated they had dated a coworker at some point during their careers, and 32% said they married the person with whom they had an office romance.  Workplace dating is a fact of life.

However, all isn’t fair when mixing love and work.  Employers are rightfully wary of how to address workplace romances and potential relationship conflicts.  Dating a coworker can potentially expose employers to allegations of sexual harassment, sexual favoritism (a form of sexual harassment) or discrimination.  However, if an employer interferes too much, it may run the risk of privacy invasion claims.

Although some employers may choose to ban all workplace dating and others may decide not to implement any official policy to address such issues, companies might want to consider implementing policy that (a) prohibits any such relationships that might present a conflict of interest, such as a supervisor dating a subordinate; and (b) defines the parameters of workplace relationships.

If a supervisor wants to date a subordinate, the company can request one of the individuals transfer to another division to avoid potential claims of quid pro quo harassment.  Where the couple is not or is no longer in a subordinate-supervisor role at work, the company may require them to enter into a consensual relationship agreement or a “love contract” which defines the parameters of such a relationship. A love contract is a written agreement in which the couple each acknowledge points such as:

  • The romantic relationship is welcome and consensual by both parties;
  • The parties understand they may end their relationship at any time without workplace retaliation of any form by one another;
  • Neither party will request, apply for, or in any way accept a direct supervisor or reporting relationship with the other;
  • Neither party will engage in conduct regarded as favoritism or that other workers may reasonably perceive as favoritism;
  • The parties will behave professionally and appropriately at work and will not engage in inappropriate public displays of affection at the workplace;
  • They shall comply with the company’s discrimination, harassment and other related workplace policies;
  • They shall notify the company if and when their personal relationship ends; and
  • If applicable, the parties shall acknowledge they remain bound by the employer’s arbitration provision for resolution of any disputes arising out of this agreement or their romantic relationship.

Additionally, an employer can and should provide the couple with anti-harassment training even if not required by law to do so.  Such training helps the couple know what standards it must comply with and it helps demonstrate management’s commitment to a harassment-free workplace.

If you have any questions, please contact me or any of our other employment law attorneys.   Best,  Cindy Bamforth