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In a workplace environment where people spend a lot of time together, sometimes friendships can turn into intimate personal relationships. While it could be a love that lasts forever, it may not last more than a few weeks.
The blending of work and personal relationships can happen in many different ways â¦ between co-workers, dentist and an employee, or a vendor with an employee. Regardless of how they come about, personal relationships in the workplace can have adverse effects on the morale and productivity of the business, as well as other employees.
Many think one solution is adopting a no-tolerance policy regarding workplace romances. If that’s you, think again. In general, people have a right to do what they want on their own time, so enforcing this policy could violate an individual’s personal rights and is not recommended. What you can control and manage is how those personal relationships affect the work environment. To do this, you will want to have some well-written office policies.
Personal relationships can create personal problems that become work-related problems. These fall within the employer’s rights to control when issues between the individuals disrupt the workplace. In other words, the problems are preventing work from getting done, causing others to be uncomfortable by the issues, negatively impacting patient care, etc. Thus, a good policy to have is one that prohibits employees from bringing personal problems to work. Then, if they fail to adhere to the established policy, the employer can hold them accountable and/or has a solid foundation from which to discipline.
Nothing seems to wreak more havoc in workplaces than when a personal relationship develops between the employer, dentist, or supervisor and one of his or her employees. This type of relationship often results in real or perceived favoritism or preferential treatment. Ideally, you would have a policy that does not condone these types of relationships. Your policy should also be clear that management will take action once there is knowledge that such a relationship exists. Obviously, the stickiest situation is when it is the dentist/owner/employer in a personal relationship with an employee, even when there is a policy in place.
Solutions can range from the employee or supervisor being transferred to another department or position so that there is no longer a supervisor and employee relationship to one person losing his or her job if the relationship continues. Employers should not take these kinds of relationships lightly because of the potential negative business consequences.
Anti-discrimination and harassment policies should exist in every policy manual. When the employer gains knowledge that a personal relationship has formed, it is advisable to clarify the policies to the employees and/or supervisor to ensure everyone maintains a workplace free of both.
When the relationship is between two co-workers, the allegations can include harassment in terms of a “hostile and intimidating work environment.” In this case, the rejected party may be creating situations at work that cause the former boyfriend/girlfriend or other team members to feel uncomfortable, i.e. spreading nasty rumors, sending hate emails, or discussing the personal matters of the relationship.
When a supervisory/co-worker relationship exists the allegations can be as serious as “quid pro quo” harassment. The employee who alleges this form of harassment often states that the relationship was actually “unwelcome,” and he or she only entered the relationship because of a concern that the employee’s job was considered to be in jeopardy if he or she did not cooperate.
If a personal relationship develops between co-workers, and you want to support their relationship, while at the same time protecting your practice, consider having the parties sign an agreement documenting that the relationship is truly consensual (sometimes referred to as a “love contract”). Ideally, the agreement includes a waiver releasing the employer from any claims of discrimination or harassment.
Romantic relationships in the workplace can easily result in serious legal and financial complications. There are no solutions that guarantee protections when it comes to personal relationships; especially when the relationship is between the employer and an employee. That shouldn’t, however, stop the employer from doing his or her due diligence to prevent such problems and to nip them in the bud if/when they occur.
Editor's Note: For more information on the Academy of Dental Management Consultants, please click here.