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Is it Important to Use Consensual Relationship Agreements?

Image of a man and woman on a dinner date to represent work relationships

Updated February 2022

HR Question:

We just found out that two of our employees are in a romantic relationship and we don’t currently utilize consensual relationship agreements. Although they’re not in a supervisor/subordinate relationship, should we still be concerned? What should we do?

HR Answer:

Although romantic relationships in the workplace are quite common, you do have reasons for concern about employees dating one another.

With the evolution of the #MeToo era, many employers found themselves re-examining (or creating) policies to mitigate the threat of sexual harassment claims – such claims being one of the top fears for many employers. Inter-workplace romances can be difficult for a myriad of reasons; one of them is proving that a relationship is consensual.  The best approach is to first meet with both employees independently and determine whether there is any possibility that the agreement is not consensual. In particular, you should:

  • Make sure that the employee understands the company’s sexual harassment policy;
  • Emphasize to your employee that they will not be retaliated against for reporting sexual harassment;
  • Explain the procedure for reporting sexual harassment; and
  • Document the employee’s file with a summary of the interview.

Assuming that the relationship is indeed consensual, a great tool is to require the employees to enter a “Consensual Relationship Agreement.” These kinds of agreements can vary by industry and size of the organization, says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “Those employed at midsize and large organizations were more likely to say they were required to report such romances (27 percent at both) than those at small employers (16 percent).”

A “Consensual Relationship Agreement,” signed by both employees and management, provides that the employees will not allow the relationship to interfere with or impact the work environment, and also confirms and documents that the relationship is consensual and voluntary.  It is highly encouraged that the employer attach a copy of the company’s sexual harassment policy to the agreement to prove that the employee was aware of the sexual harassment policy and had the opportunity to report any inappropriate conduct by the other employee.  If done properly, a consensual relationship agreement will make it more difficult for an employee to claim that the relationship was “unwelcome.” In addition, the agreement will create a question about why the employee did not seek to stop the harassment by reporting it to management.

Consensual Relationship Agreements can be an important tool in managing the risk of sexual harassment claims; however, they must be created and administered with care.

Unsure what “Consensual Relationship Agreements” looks like? If you subscribe to our Virtual HR Solutions, you can access a sample of this agreement along with other HR-related policies, forms, checklists, toolkits, and more.  As a Virtual HR Solutions subscriber, you have 24/7 access to these easily customizable self-service tools.  Contact us for a free demo.