Compliance Blog

Is It Sexual Harassment to Ask a Co-Worker Out On a Date?

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Dating policies can set expectations for acceptable workplace behavior

preventing sexual harassment - workplace relationships

Now that preventing sexual harassment has become a movement and not a moment, organizations are looking to set boundaries for workplace romances, including putting dating policies in place to reduce the risk that consensual relationships can turn into sexual harassment claims.

Because sexual conduct must be unwelcome to be considered harassment under Title VII, consensual relationships generally are not considered harassment. Dating a coworker can, however, involve complicated issues such as breakups and favoritism, which can, in some circumstances, be unlawful.

Relationships at work can also have a negative effect on the morale and productivity of other colleagues. Moreover, claims of sexual harassment can arise when workplace relationships go from consensual to non-consensual.

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the challenges facing software startup Asana in developing their first-ever dating policy. It wasn’t an easy process coming with an acceptable definition of workplace romance or deciding when employees who are dating a coworker, or dating a manager, should disclose the relationship.

For employees at Facebook and Google, when it comes to asking out a coworker on a date, they can only ask once, and if the answer is “no,” they don’t get to ask again, according to the article. “I’m busy” or “I can’t that night,” also count as a “no,” said Facebook’s global head of employment law. And if the relationship creates a conflict of interest, Facebook expects employees to disclose the relationship or face disciplinary action.

So, is it okay asking out a coworker?  It is, said Chai Feldblum, Commissioner of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), in an interview on Minnesota Public Radio.  But it depends on how often and how persistent the request for a date is.  The key is knowing how to ask a coworker out.

“If you believe, as a man, that a good dating strategy is to ask someone for a date five times because, who knows, she may be playing hard to get, fine, you can continue to have that dating strategy outside of work. But inside work, when that woman has to come back every day and hear you ask her out for a date for the sixth time? No. That’s not okay,” Feldblum said.

“We’re not talking about not having people meet their partners at work. We’re talking about making it feel okay for women and men to come to work and certainly not to have to experience some of the blatant, horrible stuff.”

Traliant Insight

While personal relationships at work are nothing new, the spotlight on sexual harassment is prompting many organizations to update their anti-harassment training and policies and code of conduct with a dating policy. Creating and communicating clear guidelines on what your organization considers acceptable and unacceptable behavior can help reduce the risk that consensual relationships at work can turn into unwelcome (and illegal) harassment.  

Learn More About Sexual Harassment Here!

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