Practice Areas

Illinois Employers May Benefit from Adopting a Relationship Policy

September 2011

By: Nancy E. Joerg, Esq.

Employers in Illinois sometime wonder what to do when one of their supervisors becomes involved romantically with an employee reporting to that supervisor. The obvious human resource problem with such a romantic relationship is that it can become a serious morale issue for the coworkers observing this relationship. Also, it naturally becomes extremely difficult for the supervisor to retain his/her objectivity in evaluating the job performance of the employee with whom he/she is romantically involved.

Another serious worry for the company is potential liability to the company should the romantic relationship reach an unhappy end. Many sex harassment lawsuits spring from such workplace romances.

Romantic relationships in the workplace are a reality of modern day life. Many people spend more time interacting and bonding with their co-workers than they do with their outside social relationships.

The following policy is offered as a way for a company to deal with these potentially troublesome romantic relationships in the company should they arise between an employee and his/her supervisor:

All relationships at COMPANY are to be conducive to a professional environment and effective business operation. No employee should be involved in an intimate, romantic, or dating relationship with any employee under his or her direct or indirect supervision. If such a relationship develops, it is the responsibility of both parties to immediately inform the Human Resources Department. COMPANY, at its sole discretion, may reassign one or both employees to an available position for which the employee is qualified. If a transfer is not possible, the dating couple may be required to determine which partner will resign within a defined timeframe.

Employees who allow personal relationships with coworkers to affect the working environment will be subject to the appropriate provisions of the progressive disciplinary action. Failure to change behavior and/or maintain expected work responsibilities will be grounds for further disciplinary action.

This policy is not intended to discourage friendships between employees.

The restrictions on romantic relationships apply regardless of the sexual orientation of the employees involved. Thus, this policy applies equally to opposite-sex and same-sex relationships.

Failure to make required disclosures or comply with a recommendation to resolve a conflict with this policy may result in disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment. Furthermore, refusal of reasonable alternative positions, if available, will be deemed a voluntary resignation.

There is no law in Illinois or on a federal level requiring such a policy. It is merely an attempt to come to grips with what can become a very difficult and complex workplace issue. Some companies prefer more general "conflict of interest" policies. There are many formulations in companies. Employers should consider what will best help them.

Questions? Call Attorney Nancy E. Joerg of Wessels Sherman's St. Charles, Illinois office: 630-377-1554 or email her at najoerg@wesselssherman.com.