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When and Why Is It Important to Use Consensual Relationship Agreements?

Question:

We just found out that 2 of our employees are in a romantic relationship.  Although they’re not in a supervisor/subordinate relationship, shouldn’t we still be concerned?

Answer:

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

Of course, the #1 fear for most employers is the risk of a sexual harassment lawsuit.  The difficulty for the employer 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 enter a “Consensual Relationship Agreement.”   The 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 are an important tool in managing the risk of sexual harassment claims; however, they must be created and administered with care.

Unsure what a “Consensual Relationship Agreement” looks like? strategic HR inc. has a Virtual HR Library that you can subscribe to that contains a sample of this agreement along with other HR related policies, forms, checklists, toolkits, and more.  As a subscriber of the Virtual HR Library, you would have access to these tools 24/7 and wherever possible, they are in Word or Excel to make it easy for you to modify as needed.  For a demo, contact us now.