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Is it illegal to flirt with or ask a coworker out on a date?

Although employers may implement policies banning office relationships, flirting with or dating a coworker is not illegal. Rules against dating or flirting with a coworker typically appear in an Employee Handbook. Employees should take caution, however, before breaking the rules and asking a coworker out on a date. It is common for employers to enforce these policies when they become aware of an office romance.

Flirtatious behavior can also lead to consequences, especially if the feelings are not mutual. Flirting can quickly turn into sexual harassment. If an employee tells their employer, the flirting or advances must stop, or an employer can face sexual harassment claims.

Do employees have to notify their employer if they date?

Whether employees must notify their employer of a relationship depends on whether the employer has a dating policy that requires it.

If no policy or guidelines exist, then employees do not have to disclose the relationship to their employer. If, however, an employer addresses workplace dating in their Employee Handbook (or other policies and procedures), then the employer may require notification.

Employers may also require each employee to sign a statement or agreement stating that they are involved in a consensual relationship with their coworker. The emphasis here is on making sure the relationship is consensual, and aligning with the employer's Anti-Discrimination and Harassment Policies. By having both employees sign statements, the employer is protecting its employees and itself against future accusations of sexual harassment.

Can an employer prohibit or restrict workplace dating?

In most states, employers can prohibit or restrict dating in the workplace. In some places, an employer may not prohibit coworkers from dating, but may prohibit a manager and subordinate from dating one another. Employers may be wary when managers and subordinates date due to the power dynamic and perceptions about fairness in the workplace. In addition, such a relationship can lead to sexual harassment claims if the subordinate has a change of heart and an upset manager retaliates. Sexual harassment charges made up almost 10% of all employment discrimination claims filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 2020. This is why employers may want to protect themselves and their employees through well-drafted employment policies.

Can an employer fire an employee for dating a coworker?

In many at-will employment states, employers can fire an employee for almost any reason, such as dating a coworker. If an employer has policies forbidding romantic relationships in the workplace, there may also be specific discipline or consequences that may be described there as well. It is common for employers to discipline or fire both employees who are dating.

Some company policies, however, may state that employees can only be terminated for good cause. This can often be the case for government employment. In this situation, it comes down to the question of whether dating a coworker falls into the good cause requirement. Because of all of these nuances, an employer may want to ask a lawyer before firing employees for dating.

What is the best way for employers to communicate dating policies?

The best way for employers to communicate fraternization or dating policies is by including their rules in an Employee Handbook. The handbook may refer to all relevant state laws in addition to federal laws and regulations, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

For example, you may define sexual harassment and establish a reporting method for harassed employees. The handbook may identify consequences for participating in harassing behavior. It can also address any dating rules, such as the prohibition of managers and subordinates dating or the requirement of a consensual relationship statement. This way, your employees know what is permissible at your organization.

If you have legal questions about protecting your business when employees get romantically involved, reach out to a Rocket Lawyer network attorney for affordable legal advice.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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