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Dating dangers: Employers rethink office romance policies

Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2018 at 7:56 am

(Associated Press)

It happens in so many workplaces – two colleagues begin a romantic relationship. But a heightened awareness about sexual harassment means small business owners can get more anxious when employees start dating.

Many owners have consulted with employment attorneys or human resources professionals since the accusations against movie executive Harvey Weinstein in November. Some owners have created or updated their policies on dating and sexual harassment, and they’re making sure staffers know the rules and to speak up if they feel harassed.

Bosses who in the past just watched with interest as a relationship blossomed are being proactive, telling couples that if the romance sours, both people are expected to behave appropriately. And some owners are even asking couples to sign statements acknowledging that their relationship is consensual.

Sammy Musovic has seen many romances – and breakups – at his three Manhattan restaurants. After the reports about Weinstein and others, Musovic consulted with an attorney to understand what his legal liability could be if an employee relationship led to harassment charges. He decided against changing his policy that allows dating, but he’s keeping a closer eye on interactions between employees.

“When I know staffers are dating, I speak to each of them in private and just try to understand the situation,” says Musovic, who owns Sojourn, Vero Bar and Selena Rosa.

A few years ago, a manager at one of his restaurants dated a hostess, and became jealous when he saw her chatting with customers.

“I told them, ‘You guys have to stop this or someone’s going to have to find another job,”‘ Musovic recalls. The manager quit. On another occasion, Musovic fired an employee who wrote unwanted love letters to a co-worker.

Jacqueline Breslin, an executive with HR provider TriNet, is fielding more questions from businesses that want to know how to handle employees dating. The first step is often to determine whether companies have policies on dating and sexual harassment; if not, they need to be written.