CAN AN EMPLOYER BAN FRATERNIZATION (DATING) IN THE WORKPLACE?

“In the Spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

― Alfred Tennyson, Works of Alfred Lord Tennyson

Perhaps this quote is a little out of date (since Tennyson died in 1892) and more than a little sexist in today’s society, but very relevant to this question. With the increasing numbers of single members of Generation Y and Generation Z entering the work force, the traditional rules on employee dating may no longer apply.

It is still legal in the majority of states for private employers to prohibit employee dating. One caveat is that the rule must be non-discriminatory. Restrictions that ban only same-sex relationships or relationships based upon racial or religious affiliation are discriminatory and would not be enforceable. These rules, however, are increasingly challenged by employees.

Why has this become a problem for entrepreneurs?  Let’s consider the numbers.

In 2016, 16% of couples say they met their spouse through work. (Business Insider 2016) In 2019 that number rose to 22% (Business New Daily 2019) According to a 2018 poll/survey through CareerBuilder, 37% of men and 35% of women admit to having dated co-workers. For employees age 50 or older – that number jumps to 72%.  (Vault Careers Blog February 2019.)  Dating co-workers is becoming the norm, not the exception.

If you wish to ban employee fraternization, the first question is what is  “fraternization?”

Does coffee or drinks with co-workers violate the rule?  How about going out as a group or just a few people? Getting together on weekends?   The question becomes when does friendship cross over into dating?

In one matter we dealt with, the two employees claimed they did not violate the rule against fraternization because all they did was have sex in the office over their lunch breaks. They never dated or met up outside the office. (I am sure to this day they still did not understand that violating the “no-dating” rule was not why they were fired.)

Aside from defining what fraternization is, the next big issue is proving a violation. Do you hire a private detective?  (Then you run the risk of being sued for invasion of privacy.) If an employee reports a violation, how far do you go to investigate it?

An even bigger question is: What is the penalty for violating the rule? How do your force people to “break-up?”  How do you monitor compliance?

In our March update we will provide more information on this topic.

All of us at Addis Law and Main Street Development hope that your year is off to great start and that you enter March roaring like a lion.

Main Street Development and Main Street Renaissance are a business advisory and development company for successful entrepreneurs. If you would like to see what we can do to help your business grow, please contact us at phil@mainstreetdevelopment.org.

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This article is being provided to you for informational purposes only. It is not intended to provide legal or tax advice. Please check with your tax advisors to be certain what options work best for you.