Love Contracts? Romance? Bah Humbug!
I just got through reading an article by a mainstream publication in which it was suggested that through the use of a love contract an employer could either minimize or deflect liability for sexual harassment and retaliation.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of a love contract, that just means you’re not a lawyer. A Love Contract is a document in which employees acknowledge that a consensual romantic relationship has occurred or is occurring between coworkers, typically between an employee and a member of management/supervision/ownership. Presumably, by signing this agreement employees will be dissuaded from filing a lawsuit and employers will have a defense that may allow them to obtain an early dismissal of any lawsuit.
Let me be clear. I don’t want to deprive anyone of the opportunity to be loved, feel loved, doodle about their loved one or walk around day dreaming with a goofy look on their face. When I wrote an article on romance in the workplace in April of 2009, I received emails from a number of people that met their soul mate in the workplace. That’s awesome. Unfortunately, those folks are the exception rather than the rule. The problem is that not everybody can handle a breakup after being hit by one of Cupid’s arrows. When that happens, the workplace becomes a danger zone and there is no contract the can adequately address the impact on your team as they deal with the fall out of a broken relationship. That is just reality.
Let’s be frank, any time a member of management or ownership has a relationship with a subordinate- the scope of your exposure, as an employer, increases exponentially. A love contract may dissuade some from bringing a lawsuit; which is, perhaps, the strongest argument in its favor. A romantic relationship between management and a line employee, in particular, is fraught with risk and will negatively impact the workplace. The relationships create the impression of favoritism, thus undercutting management’s credibility. You know the comments, “Gee, if I slept with the boss maybe I would get…” and “Do they think we are stupid? Everyone knows what is going on between them.” Second, it makes some people think that using the workplace, as a source of future bed partners/conquests is an acceptable practice. Third, love contract or not, the aggrieved party will likely claim that the relationship was the result of a threat of adverse employment action and that same pressure was exerted to cause the employee to sign the love contract. We are in different economic times. The argument that you should have left and taken another job will not resonate as well as it would in a good economy. Even if you win this argument, it will not be pretty and it will cost you a lot of money.
Bottom Line: In today’s work environment, a supervisor, manager, or owner that has a sexual relationship with a subordinate does not get any sympathy here. Love contract or not, you are leaving yourself exposed. Pursue romance outside the workplace or get ready to pay your lawyer.