Workzone: Love at the workplace can be a jumbled affair

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As we head toward Valentine's Day, we are here to report that love and work as a general rule just don't mix.

Even outside of the job, any serious relationship ought to be issued a lawyer because if you want to codify that relationship in any manner, you are eventually going to need one.

Consider this: Every marriage ends, be it through death or divorce, and either way you will have a mountain of legalities, be it through a judicial decree or probate -- there's just a whole lot of paperwork.

The only way to make love worse is to tag it onto your employment.

Some employers are trying to short-circuit their own potential legal problems with relationship contracts. These contracts, for one thing, formalize the assertion that both parties consent to the relationship and that there is not an element of sexual harassment.

Such a contract, according to Susan Guerette, a labor lawyer in Philadelphia, absolves the company of future sexual harassment claims.

Some companies also include provisions that the employees in the relationship will not engage in public displays of affection in the office and that the employees will not be involved in any employment-related reviews involving each other.

"Your company would have a policy in effect that if you are going to have a relationship, you have to inform [Human Resources]," Ms. Guerette said.

While that sounds fine as far as it goes, getting employees to sign a love contract can be tricky, she said, because love is often messy.

For one thing, it makes the head of Human Resources the relationship cop, and he or she might just think there are more important issues in the office.

And really, does anyone think the Lothario in legal, the cad in accounting, the strumpet in sales or the floozy in the phone room are going to want a stack of documents detailing their company conquests? Particularly if they are married to someone else?

"Certainly they are not going to want to sign an agreement that says they are in a relationship with someone at work if they are married to someone else," Ms. Guerette said.

Still, the policy is less draconian, and maybe a tad more realistic, than an all-out ban on company romances.

Then there are those relationships that don't last until retirement. While breaking up is hard to do, it's also painful for everyone else to watch. "You want to be sure you are not treating someone in a negative way because their relationship did not work out," she said.

In some cases after a break-up, people who worked closely together now no longer want to, while others are fine remaining in the same department and even working on the same projects.

"There's going to be heartbreak, and you can't stop that," Ms. Guerette said. The best that a company can do is be sensitive to hurt feelings and try to work productivity around that.

The best thing an employee can do is remember that old folk wisdom: "You don't want to get your meat where you get your bread."

Ann Belser will be celebrating Valentine's Day at or 412-263-1699. First Published February 15, 2012 3:15 PM


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