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An old HR question is taking on new significance in the #MeToo era: Is it OK for co-workers to date?

Clearly, if romantic advances by a co-worker are unwanted, it’s a problem. But in delving deeper into the issue, writer Pamela DeLoatch at found that some think dating and even casual flirting can be good for employee engagement, provided that everything is consensual and mutually enjoyed.

Still, it’s a dangerous area. McDonald’s fired its CEO for having a consensual relationship with an employee in violation of company policy, and Best Buy is investigating its CEO for “having an inappropriate relationship with a co-worker” before getting promoted.

DeLoatch notes that some companies ban employees from dating each other, while others prohibit it only between supervisors and employees. Some additional rules she has come across include prohibiting employees from sharing taxi cabs home and limiting the length of time co-workers can maintain eye contact.

“Employees can spend most of their waking hours at work, so, naturally, friendships can form; and out of some of those, romantic relationships will blossom,” DeLoatch writes. “But sometimes those work romances cross a line or spawn consequences. The #MeToo era, among other things, has shown the dysfunction work relationships can create, leaving companies wondering whether and how to regulate relationships.”

In New Jersey, the consequences are steeper. Attorney Michael Shadiack of Connell Foley said New Jersey courts have been holding business owners and their supervisors personally liable in hostile workplace cases, not just the businesses.

“Workplace dating is an issue employers have to address,” said Shadiack. “Many employers maintain a consensual relationships policy within its employee handbook,” added Shadiack.  “I also discuss workplace dating during each workplace harassment prevention training program that I conduct and will raise it during the Feb. 7 NJBIA seminar in the context of, ‘Is the conduct unwelcomed,’ which is the first element to be analyzed when  a hostile work environment has been alleged.”

Shadiack will lead the Feb. 7 seminar on best practices to prevent a hostile work environment called “Getting Personal: Knowing the Legal Liabilities of a Hostile Work Environment.” Go here for more information and to register.

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