Workplace Romance/ Workplace Dating Policy – Yea! Or Nay? Plus: Intel CEO Brian Krzanich's resignation over workplace relationship update

American Apparel was one company we remember that banned workplace romance. At the time of this ban many years back the retailer was just about to go defunct (It is now an online-only retailer and markets itself as "Ethically Made—Sweatshop Free after filing for bankruptcy and eventually auctioned). The ban got mixed reactions. Most considered it lacking logicality and simply draconian but today, especially with the heightened awareness like the #MeToo movement it might make a compelling argument whether the ban should become a decree by default and whether that actually makes sense or not. #MeToo makes us all rethink gender relations in society and in the workplace. We want to consider all perspectives here. A lot of organisations ban office dating for many reasons but we ask in that case:  What is the tipping point of how much meddling in an employee's personal affairs the employer should be allowed?

Does the ban empower the organizations to become overtly authoritative and meddle in personal affairs of employees in the guise of enforcing corporate cultural values- thereby triggering serious implications in maintaining a healthy working relationship between colleagues who might have trust issues in building genuine workplace friendships and support system at work (which are essentially very important for an employee’s ability to succeed). Also, having a ban might question the very credibility of being and acting like responsible adults and the right to one’s privacy turning serious issues of misconduct into a proverbial sword hanging on co-workers’ throats at all times by casting doubt on the validity of reporting a real abuse. As well, blocking in the creation of safe nurturing environments for employees at the workplace? 

Could a decree of this sort result in diminishing personal conflicts that could also become professional for instance sexual harassment cases or potentially inappropriate sexual behaviour at work like how a lot was stirred in a string of revelations by Kate Upton in her #MeToo post that alleged the Guess co-founder to have been perpetuating sexual & emotional harassment towards women and the rampant abuse in their work environment? 
Or, could the workplace ethics get a boost like not allowing room for biased decisions, or yielding special privileges for the object of one’s affection/love interest at the workplace? Say for example the case of Lululemon Athletica's Ex-CEO Laurent Potdevin who had a relationship with an employee while in tenure as the CEO of the sportswear retailer? A classic case of fraternization in the workplace encompassing relationships that go beyond the normal scope of employee interactions.

Obviously it’s not always an issue about powerful men alone. Some men get harassed by female co-workers and that too seldom gets reported. The #MeToo is everyone’s movement regardless of gender.

Workplace romances are not uncommon. There is no specific study and research that proves actual statistics of workplace romances as most of them get noticed but not reported. However, there are a lot of positives floating around about workplace romances flourishing in most cases as people work in close proximity to each other, have plenty of time to know a co-worker better (both laterally and at a subordinate level), develop a genuine attraction and find a future mate/spouse. It’s all hunky-dory when two consensual single adults at the workplace find succour in each other's arms and find love – true, long-term or temporary. The end result could be a sure shot positive dose of dealing with work-related stress and in turn greater productivity and harmony all around. However, all hell breaks loose when a budding work romance turns out to be just a quick fling (“Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” – applies to men equally) or it’s a blooming romance between two married co-workers (not spouses) or worst still a romance, especially where one person occupies positions of responsibility and trust. In most cases, office romance went sour results in a whole lot of collateral damage at the workplace. 

Officiating a decree of sorts to ban workplace romance might not really help minimize that but it does help establish a protocol and a moral code of conduct at the workplace for employees at all levels. People spend the majority of their time at work, people are bound to fall in love but a policy doesn't have to be restrictive but should be rather, permissive with riders that employees in a relationship at work with a colleague should avoid any overt displays of affection to ensure that other staff members are not made uncomfortable as a result.

There is not much of a study on workplace romances as much there is on sexual misconduct and harassment and there are some definite research and laws in place for the latter. More important than the workplace romance ban is the need for organisations to know how to identify sexual harassment, what behaviours are not acceptable (including how to change or modify those behaviours and the behaviours of their teams and how to prevent and respond to any incident especially how to spot it, stop it and how to prevent a culture where it happens along with the deep understanding of what behaviours of a particular country constitute sexual harassment and what are the local compliance laws, or the new Statute to be able to tackle situations as they arise.

Updated on 25th June 2018:

This may sound coincidental but the recent resignation of the Intel CEO, Brian Krzanich due to a "past consensual relationship with an employee" might be illustrative of Intel's workplace dating policy and this post's quest for answers. We are seeing an increasing trend in companies where strict actions are being taken on the workplace dating front on account of violation of the company's policy especially when the superior-subordinate relationship is in question. More at:

Intel now faces a fight for its future

Many employers permit co-workers to date, spouses to work together but we ask readers a question - Will a workplace romance ban be a step back or a step forward? It will be good to research as to what kind of an impact does workplace romances have over organizational dynamics and whether legislation or a ban will end up nurturing or discriminating.


The writer, editor @DiverseCustomer - Amit Anand has been instrumental in setting up diversity programmes, with a specific focus on women.  In most cases, he and his advisory panel have created from scratch a comprehensive programme to support a multi-cultural organisation to achieve its diversity goals for women and create a legacy of change.