Monday, May 17, 2010

Love Contracts: Are They Effective?

To further protect a company’s interests in avoiding litigation, many have introduced “love contracts” for employees having a relationship in the office. These are documents signed by the individuals involved in the relationship, along with the company, that ensures the voluntary and consensual nature of the relationship. These contracts can protect companies from potential litigation if the relationship were to go sour. If a relationship is ended, management or human resources should continue to check back in with both members of the previous couple to ensure that no harassment or ill treatment is taking place.

Love contracts may also include guidelines regarding a couple's behavior within the office.  Additionally, The love contracts generally make arbitration the only grievance process available to the participants in the office romance.  Although, one would think that these contracts are ironclad in protecting employers against litigation, co-workers are continuing to go to court over the differential treatment the employee in the romantic relationship received from the manager - and they're winning their sexual harassment cases.

These contracts are not foolproof for several reasons.  For one, an employee can allege that they were under duress or being forced to sign the contract.  Additionally, for the love contract to work, the employees actually need to be willing to report their relationship to human resources.  A couple who is already married, a same-sex couple, etc. may be unwilling to admit their relationship for fear of scrunity. 

Although love contracts can be effective in protecting companies from litigation, they should also have supporting plans to back up the coverage of the contracts.  Having appropriate policies and sexual harrassment training in place will further protect a company from costly, time-consuming, and potentially damaging lawsuits.
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