Office Romance Gets Contractual

Navigating the workplace can be difficult in itself, but adding a romantic element can make the office landscape more difficult to steer. That's why some employers are asking employees who date one another to sign so-called love contracts.

"It is documenting the relationship. You need to define the relationship. Is [it] welcome? It is not sex harassment," explained Stephen Tedesco, an employment lawyer, who said that it is important to make clear that whatever personal conduct has gone on is not harassment.

"It also defines how they are going to conduct themselves in the workplace going forward," he said.

The issue of workplace romance has become more prevalent with people working longer days and more women in the office. In fact, 82 percent of people said they actually know of a steamy romance between co-workers, according to a 2008 office romance survey.

M.T. and Chris, who asked that their last names not be revealed, are real-life examples of office romance. Not long after Chris interviewed M.T. for a job, they became partners in business and in life.

"We debated whether or not to come out or keep it a secret. We thought, actually, everyone knows anyway," said M.T., who now is engaged to Chris.

At their company, Naked Communications, it seems love is in the air and office romances are comfortable in the environment.

"Considering I'm marrying my first and only office romance, I guess I'm a proponent," said one female employee.

"The happier people are in the office the longer they work, and that's good for us really," M.T. said.

But not all office romances are sweet, which is where the love contracts come in.

"Think of it in terms of a prenup," said "Good Morning America" workplace contributor Tory Johnson. "You're getting married. Someone basically [is] saying, 'We're happy. We hope it rules out. If it doesn't, we know what the rules will be.' In this particular case, you're saying to the employer, 'We'll prevent you from being held responsible for employment issues in the event of a failed personal relationship.' The employer should not have that burden. "

Even if things are going well with your relationship, Johnson said being careful is of the utmost importance.

"I think discretion really is the key. It's important to really not [get other employees involved] in your relationship," she said. "It's important to not involve people in your personal business because there's no such thing as a romantic secret at work. If I tell you it's good gossip, you'll tell everybody else. So the reality is, until you're at a point where you realize this could be serious, keep it to yourself." Johnson said that once you come out with the truth about a relationship, discretion remains important."

Johnson added that if an employee wanted to have a lawyer look over the document, he or she should.

"A lawyer has drafted that agreement. You're certainly welcome to have a lawyer review it. None of these are forced documents," she said.

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