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MANAGING STAFF

Two female employees in a romantic relationship

Question: Two women who work at our practice have recently become romantically involved—with each other. My problem isn’t with the fact that they are both women, but that they are coworkers. How should I handle the situation?

Answer: Workplace romance is a difficult topic for a manager to broach because it seems as if it’s an intrusion on employees’ personal lives. On the other hand, these employees’ personal lives now overlap with their professional lives, and the office you manage.

There are numerous potential risks associated with an office romance, including unauthorized sharing of confidential information, accusations of favoritism, and the worst: sexual harassment.

Related reading: Model Policy: Sexual harassment  

When the romance is new, the people involved can also be distracted, and other staff members may be uncomfortable. When the couple is fighting, workplace tension may result. And what happens if they break up?

These are all legitimate concerns and, if you manage coworkers who are involved in a relationship, you need to proactively address these matters.

How hard-line you decide to be may depend, among other things, on the job tasks of the staff members. Are they coworkers or is one in a supervisory capacity? Are there potential professional conflicts or foreseeable scenarios where the relationship may negatively impact the practice? Have there already been signs that other staff members are troubled by the relationship?

Ask and answer these questions, and read, 4 immediate steps to take when an office romance blossoms. Then schedule a time to meet with the two employees.

Keep in mind, that unless any serious issues have come to light or seem likely, you may want to be realistic about the practice’s role in regulating romance. A recent survey of more than 4,000 workers nationwide finds that 39 percent have dated a coworker; and of those who have dated a coworker, 30 percent say the office romance resulted in marriage. It appears that love will indeed find a way.

Also keep in mind that your romantically involved employees, who happen to be two women, should not be treated any differently than if they were a woman and a man, or a man and a man.

You’ll want to pay close attention to make sure your staff members don’t respond negatively to this office romance simply because it is between two women. Although surveys find Americans have become more accepting of same-sex relationships, and a majority of Americans now supports same-sex marriage, not everyone is accepting.

However—and this a big however—many states, cities, and counties have laws that prohibit lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employment discrimination; these laws often include workplace harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

With this in mind, as well as respectful and equal treatment of all staff members, you should immediately speak to any employees whose behavior toward the two women might be construed as harassment.


Related reading:

When to call an HR expert for help


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