#MeToo Revelations Have Made Workplace Romances Complicated For Employers

By Ally Marotti
Chicago Tribune

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As more women come forward with stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, the conversation about dating in the workplace is shifting.

Chicago Tribune

These days, office romances are full of paperwork.

Since the #MeToo movement caught fire last fall on social media, human resources expert Sharon Sellers said, there’s been an uptick in employers inquiring about so-called love contracts, which newly dating co-workers sign to assure their boss that everything is consensual. Employees tend to laugh at them, but they’re an employer’s way of reducing risk if the relationship sours, said Sellers, president of South Carolina-based consulting firm SLS Consulting.

Workplace romances have always been laced with the forbidden, be it by company policy or social taboo. But as more women come forward with stories of sexual harassment in the workplace, often at the hands of men at higher pay grades, the conversation about dating co-workers is shifting.

“It’s changing everyone’s perspectives,” said Andrew Challenger, vice president of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, which released a survey on workplace romance earlier this month. “(It used to be) laissez-faire, people can date who they want to date, but I think companies are realizing to create a safe environment for the employees, there needs to be some policing.”

It’s a delicate balance to strike, though, and banning relationships isn’t always the answer, Challenger said. When co-workers spend more waking hours at the office than at home, romances are bound to blossom. But some are also destined to fail.

Of the 150 human resource executives Challenger, Gray & Christmas surveyed in January, more than 60 percent said they’ve had to deal with a failed or inappropriate relationship at work. One-third ended in at least one person’s separation from the company.

Cafe Marie-Jeanne in the Humboldt Park neighborhood is fortunate, co-owner Mike Simmons said. He and his wife, co-owner Valerie Szafranski, haven’t had to deal with any co-worker relationships that have gone wrong since opening the restaurant in January 2016. The cafe has “a very hard-line ‘no’ policy” regarding harassment of any type — among co-workers and from guests.

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