Sign a ‘consensual relationship agreement’

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It has been a love filled week as businesses around the country cashed in on the annual flowers/chocolates/over-sized Teddies extravaganza. Cynics may label Valentine’s Day the flower industry’s annual cash cow – hopeless romantics would disagree. Whichever camp you’re from, HR can often be the unwanted ‘third party’ in office romance entanglements.

Surveys have indicated some 60% of people have had a relationship with a co-worker and dating among colleagues is almost inevitably happening in your workplace. It can cause a headache when relationships sour or when the romance is one-sided, and create hostile work environments when workers gossip about favouritism. But what can be done about it? The answer may be to get your loved up employees to sign a consensual relationship agreement.

While the unusual contract has not yet gained speed in Australia, the contracts have been used by some firms in the US. Office romance is commonly frowned on in many US firms, but some states’ privacy laws restrict an employer’s ability to prohibit employee relationships.

Here is a sample agreement:

Consensual Relationship Agreement

We, the undersigned employees, have voluntarily entered a social relationship.

We acknowledge that [Employer] is committed to providing a workplace that is free of harassment, discrimination, conflicts of interest, and favouritism, and that [Employer] will not tolerate unwelcome or offensive conduct, conduct that creates a hostile work environment, or sexual harassment. We have read and understand [Employer’s] anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies.

We understand and agree as follows:

The social relationship is welcome and consensual by both employees.

Either employee may terminate the relationship at any time without suffering workplace retaliation of any form.

If applicable: Neither employee will seek or accept a direct supervisory or reporting relationship with the other.

If applicable: [Employee in supervisory position] will not participate in any discussions or decisions related to the terms of [subordinate employee’s] employment, including those related to assignments, evaluations, discipline or discharge, compensation, scheduling, promotion or demotion, and development.

The employees will not engage in conduct that could reasonably be regarded by co-workers as favouritism.

The employees will behave professionally toward each other at all times, even if the social relationship ends.

The employees will not engage in public displays of affection or other inappropriate conduct in the workplace or at work-related functions.

The social relationship does not violate [Employer’s] anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies, and participation in the social relationship has not been made a condition or term of employment.

The employees will continue to comply with [Employer’s] antidiscrimination and anti-harassment policies.

The employees will inform [Employer] immediately if the social relationship ends or if the conduct of the other employee is no longer welcome.

If applicable: Any dispute arising from the social relationship or this agreement will be resolved through arbitration.

This agreement is confidential and intended not to invade employees’ privacy but to affirm that both employees have received and agree to comply with all relevant policies.

The employees may consult with an attorney before signing this agreement.

Signed [2 x consenting employees]

Somewhere between ambulance chasing lawyers looking for an extra buck and fear of harassment law suits, the love contracts were dreamt up as a solution…

-Stephanie Zillman