No employer wants to witness employees putting themselves into dangerous situations -- that's evident by companies that strictly adhere to workplace safety rules. But an extramarital affair that begins in the office can be just as dangerous as violating the rules that prohibit entry into certain areas without safety goggles. The danger posed by infidelity in the workplace can harm the employees and their families, affect co-workers' morale and dig deep into the company's pocketbook.
Most employers won't touch morality issues in the workplace because what one employee considers infidelity may be innocent flirtation to another. Workplace relationships occur, whether employees intentionally set out to find a partner at work or a camaraderie simply develops into something more that could pose a risk to the employees' families as well as the organization. Therefore, employers shouldn't attempt to establish policies that address behavior that can only be deemed right or wrong by an employee's conscience. In his research titled, "Infidelity & Affairs: Facts, Myths and What Works," Sonoma, California-based psychologist Ofer Zur says the "Moral-Puritan View" is an approach to infidelity that may be rooted in religious beliefs, another off-limits area in the workplace.
It just makes good business sense to implement a policy that prohibits relationships between supervisors and their direct reports. Such a policy offers the same preventive measures and protections that an anti-nepotism policy provides. Employers who ignore romantic relationships between supervisors and employees may be compromising the integrity of their business processes and systems. For example, an affair between the accounting manager and the accounts payable clerk can disrupt the organization's checks and balances. In addition, permitting supervisors and employees to openly engage in romantic relationships can cause employee morale to plummet based on perceptions of favoritism, writes Helena P. Amaral, at the University of Rhode Island, in her 2006 paper titled, "Workplace Romance and Fraternization Policies."
No-Dating and No-Fraternization Policies
Employers who implement a strict no-dating or no-fraternization policy to prevent infidelity may back themselves into a corner when asked to define exactly what types of relationships the company prohibits. These kinds of policies can restrict employees from developing close friendships with co-workers and make supervisors and managers fearful of anything that could be perceived as inappropriate, even if it's a compliment on a co-worker's new hairstyle or noticeable improvements from the employee's new workout regimen. But implementing these policies can potentially nip infidelity in the bud and prevent the company from possibly becoming embroiled in a sexual harassment suit if one of the parties to an affair cries foul.
Consensual vs. Nonconsensual
Employees may argue that by virtue of their capability to make adult decisions, they can be trusted to engage in consensual relationships with their co-workers and recognize the dangers of nonconsensual affairs. And they're right. Employers trust them to carry out their work duties and responsibilities in an adult manner, so it's only natural that employees would engage in adult behavior and decision making about whether to get involved in an extramarital affair with a co-worker. Employers that attempt to police adult employees' actions and behaviors will almost always fail and probably create clever workarounds to carry on a clandestine affair.
Ruth Mayhew has been writing since the mid-1980s, and she has been an HR subject matter expert since 1995. Her work appears in "The Multi-Generational Workforce in the Health Care Industry," and she has been cited in numerous publications, including journals and textbooks that focus on human resources management practices. She holds a Master of Arts in sociology from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Ruth resides in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C.