EMPLOYEES WHO date one another may soon have to sign a so-called “love contract” as a trend of office pre-nups increases in the US, says US employment lawyer Stephen Tedesco.
Over the past five years many US employers have opted to guard themselves against sexual harassment suits by asking staff in an office romance to sign a contract.
These “love contracts” typically state that the relationship is mutually agreeable, consensual, and unrelated to the company; that couples are aware of the policy against sexual harassment and know how to use it; and that they agree to settle any relationship dispute through binding arbitration, not a lawsuit.
The contract, designed to exclude the employer from any responsibility in the event of a break-up, are needed to also protect employers from claims of sexual harassment when a romance occurs in the workplace, said Tedesco.
Tedesco said the idea evolved about five years ago when two executives at a client company wanted to protect themselves and the company from sexual harassment claims. Since then, numerous other firms have followed suit.
“It's a recurring issue, and, frankly, it will remain so,” he said. “It protects the employees and it protects the company. Quite a few sexual harassment issues come out of relationships that are consensual but then cease to be consensual.”
In a recent survey of employees, 59 per cent had had a workplace romance at some point in their careers, while 17 per cent said they had never dated a co-worker, but would. Only 16 per cent of respondents were aware of office policies regarding workplace romance and 41 cent were not aware of any such policies.
According to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, while Australia does not yet have binding “love contracts”, there are measures to prevent possible harassment cases. Some firms will move employees into separate departments to avoid possible tension from a relationship, or will prohibit employees in the same department dating.
Another approach advocated in Australia is to require employees to report a relationship to a nominated personnel officer as soon as it commences. Such a requirement is increasingly common in employment contracts in Britain. Companies such as the BBC now require employees to inform a nominated officer of any sexual relationships with colleagues. Failure to do so can lead to the termination of employment.