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Employment and Labor

Workplace Romance: Do You Have a Policy for That? If You Don’t, You Should

Workplace Romance: Do You Have a Policy for That? If You Don’t, You Should

What can a restaurant do to encourage a collaborative, friendly working culture and protect itself from increased turnover or worse, legal claims for harassment or favoritism? 

In the wake of McDonalds’ CEO Steve Easterbrook’s decision to step down for having a consensual relationship with an employee in violation of company policy, many are left wondering, is there any room in the restaurant workplace for romance? 

When it comes to a supervisor and subordinate, the short answer is no. Supervisor is defined broadly to include any person that has authority over another. Because of the loss of flexibility in assigning work to employees and the temptation or ability to take an adverse employment action against a rejected party, romantic relationships between manager and subordinate should be prohibited, as in the case of McDonalds. 

The workplace romantic relationship issue may become an increasing problem with restaurants and other industries because of shifting social norms.

A February 2012 Workplace Options and Public Policy Polling survey, “Millennials More Likely to be Smitten with Superiors, Co-Workers,” identified that 40% of millennials would be willing to get involved with a boss compared to just 12 percent of older employees. In the same study, 71 percent of millennials indicated that workplace romance has a positive effect on performance and morale. Additionally, CareerBuilder’s most recent annual Valentine’s Day survey released in February 2018 notes that workplace romance is at a 10-year low and indicates that nearly a quarter of workers have dated someone who was their boss at the time. 

With changing attitudes towards dating supervisors, it’s imperative for employers to outline what is and is not acceptable in their company policies. Keep in mind that millennial managers are included in the percentage that thinks relationships with subordinates are okay. 

The policy must address what to do in situations when a supervisor/manager and subordinate are attracted to one another. If a manager determines that he/she wants to date a subordinate, the manager should immediately contact human resources. Don’t forget that “date” may mean different things to different people, so the definition of “date” should be defined as clearly as possible. Rest assured, HR staff does not have a prurient interest in the lives of employees but they can offer an objective ear to sort out details.

Carefully managing the process saves everyone heartbreak in the long run. If you are a supervisor, the best option is to completely separate yourself from the subordinate. Remember that whenever there is a real or perceived imbalance in organizational authority or power, there is no such thing as a consensual relationship. In situations where a supervisor wishes to date an employee, there are only a couple of options for the employer. If either of the parties can be reassigned so that they are no longer supervisor and subordinate, then the employer should discuss those options with the employees. If there is not an opportunity to reassign, then the employees need to decide which one will leave the company if they intend to continue the relationship. The anti-fraternization policy is as worthy of compliance as the anti-tardiness policy.

While many workplace romances between employees can lead to happy and productive employees, the fact is most workplace romances do not work out. Regardless, it is not the employer’s job to police or get involved with consensual employee relationships unless those relationships interfere with work product or cause disruption.

While unlikely to deter employees from making a love connection, a well-written anti-fraternization policy will give the employer a foundation from which to make decisions if a situation arises. Having a policy in place will not prevent employees dating each other, but it can help employers keep the peace when a love connection goes awry. 

This piece was originally shared on Modern Restaurant Management on January 24, 2020 and is republished here with permission from the publication.