When cupid strikes in the workplace, HR needs to pay attention. After all, office romances have the potential to venture into dangerous territory. What may begin as a sweet connection can quickly spiral into a slew of legal issues and workplace disruptions. Gossip, conflicts and a loss of focus are just the tip of the iceberg of problems that can arise. Unfortunately, romantic relationships at work can escalate into more serious matters like sexual harassment, retaliation, favoritism and even violence.

Although an outright ban on office romance seems like an easy solution, it may not be a realistic approach – as the following stats will show. Instead, HR will need to have a well-thought-out plan in place to address romantic situations and help employees navigate romance in workplace.

1) One-third of Canadians have now or have been romantically linked with a colleague.

Yet about half (49%) of participants said their company does not have a formal policy that addresses workplace relationships. To ensure you’re prepared, here are some proactive steps HR can take to minimize the risks that come with canoodling coworkers:

• Establish a comprehensive policy on appropriate workplace conduct.
• Maintain a zero-tolerance policy for relationships between employees and their superiors or subordinates.
• Encourage open communication by discussing the benefits of disclosing romantic relationships to HR.
• Highlight the significance of consensual relationships and the importance of mutual respect.
• Consider implementing love contracts as an additional measure to mitigate risks.

2) Almost half (41%) of employees don’t know their company’s office romance policy.

For workplace policies to have a real impact, it is crucial that they are effectively communicated to every member of your team. So, don’t let your office romance policy just gather dust in the employee handbook. Ensure that all employees thoroughly read and comprehend it. Make it an integral part of your onboarding process and ongoing employee training procedures. Keep it up-to-date by providing specific examples of what is acceptable and what is not when it comes to office romantic situations.

3) 37% of the workforce hide romantic relationships from HR at work.

Even with an office romance policy in place, employees may be reluctant to disclose their relationships to HR for various reasons including:

• One individual in the office romance may already be married or in a relationship.
• People identifying as LGBTQ2S+ may not feel safe to report a relationship.
• Employees may believe that their personal lives are not the employer’s concern or business.

But keeping romantic relationships secret in the office can do more harm than good for both employees and HR. Which is why it’s important for HR to talk about the benefits of disclosing office romances. By disclosing these relationships, both parties can formally address that they are in a consensual relationship. This is essential from multiple perspectives, including protection against future conflicts of interest and potential claims of sexual harassment, discrimination or favouritism.

4) Sexual harassment and sexism are still huge problems.

Workplace sexual harassment is more common than you might think.

• According to a 2024 Statistics Canada report, nearly 1-in-2 women and roughly 3-in-10 men reported experiencing harassment or sexual assault in the workplace.

• When it comes to office relationships in particular, 19% of those who have been in a relationship with someone at work, said they have felt pressure to be part of a romantic relationship at work, whether it be to be considered for favourable projects, to progress in their career, to keep in good standing with the company or with a senior member of the organization or to keep their current role. *

HR plays a vital role in ensuring a safe work environment that is free from harassment. Encourage your staff to take advantage of available training opportunities so that they are well-equipped to handle disclosures of workplace misconduct and are aware of the resources available to them, including support for sexual violence, domestic abuse and psychological wellbeing. Additionally, consider implementing anonymous employee hotlines as a valuable tool for reporting instances of harassment. It is essential to emphasize that all workplace complaints should be thoroughly investigated, ensuring they are treated with the utmost seriousness they deserve.

Bottom line: When it comes to office romances, it’s always wise for HR to prepare for potential challenges while remaining hopeful for the best outcomes.

* Stats 1 to 4 pulled from 2019 ADP survey.