Office Romance: Would You Sign a Contract to Date a Colleague?

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Workplace romances are no new phenomenon. Most offices have undoubtedly seen their share of co-working couples, torrid love affairs and sordid scandals. But in the latest effort to curb the (sometimes) messy aftermath of those relationships, some companies are enforcing “love contracts.”

Rather than prohibiting office romances altogether, the love-contract policy requires both participants to sign off that the relationship is consensual, with full understanding of the company’s sexual-harassment policies, Forbes reports.

(MORE: Does Online Dating Make It Harder to Find ‘the One’?)

Sound too simple? Not really. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 11,364 charges were filed alleging sexual harassment in the workplace last year. Alan Lesnewich, a partner at law firm Fisher & Phillips, told Forbes the contract is a preemptive approach to avoid any vengeance that might surface if an office relationship should sour. “The advantage of a love contract is that you have a document to point to in addition to your normal second line of defense,” he said.

In a new survey by CareerBuilder.com, 38% of workers admitted to dating a colleague at least once during their careers. Another poll by Vault.com found that last year 59% of respondents claimed to date a co-worker at least once.

Lisa Friel, vice president of sexual-misconduct consulting and investigations at T&M Protection Resources, told Forbes a 2010 study in the Hastings Law Journal found that 4 out 10 employers admitted to ignoring office-relationship policies because they are difficult to monitor. “It’s never a good idea to have a policy you can’t enforce, or you set yourself up for legal issues,” she said.

Lesnewich said he’s never seen a love contract tested in court, but suggested there are loopholes: participants could claim that he or she was coerced into signing a contract and also that the agreement doesn’t protect future occurrences.

Friel touts love contracts, which have been around for about eight years, as a method to embrace inevitable workplace dating, but said good training and emphasizing the company policy to new employees is the best way to avoid sexual-harassment lawsuits.

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