Although a Love Contract cannot eliminate the possibility of harassment claims or litigation following the deterioration of a romantic workplace relationship, it can serve as strong evidence that the parties to the contract were involved in a consensual relationship. Most companies find that Love Contracts are useful to help keep valuable employees on staff while helping to protect the employer from a harassment lawsuit down the line.
Some Love Contracts are very simple—only half a page, signed by both parties, acknowledging that a relationship is ongoing and consensual. Others can be as long as three or four pages, including various acknowledgments and clauses. In these longer versions, not only do employees acknowledge the relationship and their willing participation, but they also state that they are aware of the harassment policy, and they commit to letting the company know if the relationship status changes.
When companies consult with our practice to develop Love Contracts, we emphasize that a critical part of the document is reminding employees that the company’s acknowledgment of the relationship should not be confused with condoning public displays of affection or other unprofessional behavior. It should be made clear to the parties that signing the document does not give them free reign to act inappropriately in the workplace.
Companies must take into account the type of employees involved when drafting the contract and tailor its provisions accordingly. For example, a simple contract is appropriate when both parties to the relationship are rank-and-file employees who work at the same level within the company. More sophisticated contracts may be appropriate if the parties are management-level employees, because the potential for problems may be greater.
Some companies customize the contracts by incorporating language from the employee handbook and mentioning other corporate rules, such as those on the use of corporate e-mail accounts for private correspondence, for example. This makes the contract consistent with other corporate policies.
Companies must be mindful that, despite their best efforts, complaints of harassment can arise and can lead to lawsuits related to the actions alleged and the employer’s response to the complaints. Companies can reduce the likelihood of harassment lawsuits stemming from romantic workplace relationships by preventing relationships between subordinates and managers and by implementing Love Contracts.
Todd Scherwin is a partner and Colin Calvert is an associate in the Irvine, California, office of Fisher & Phillips. They represent employers in various aspects of labor and employment law.