GOJO, a skin care products manufacturer with 700 employees, has three married couples and three others who are living together.
While GOJO has made a formal policy allowing married employees, most privately held companies do not address the issue until faced with co-workers who are about to wed, says Jim Kurek, an attorney and chair of the labor department at Akron-based Buckingham, Doolittle & Burroughs LPA, with offices in Canton, Cleveland and Columbus.
Many family businesses already have a spouse or in-law of the owner involved in the company. While it might seem this sets a precedent for the rest of the workforce, most managers don't think about the issue until that grapevine winds its way to their door.
A generation ago, it was commonplace to have blanket policies prohibiting co-worker relationships. That was the same mindset that scoffed at flexible time and casual dress. Times change, and so does the workplace.
"Most employers in this area tend to be tolerant of situations where employees date," Kurek says. "I think there's a degree of sensitivity to allow people to be people."
Besides, he adds, "with people spending as much time as they do at work, as long as you have men and women together, fraternization will occur.
"Most employers are reluctant of going to the extreme of prohibiting it unless a problem comes up."
Kurek says most of his clients have no problems with their married employees, but he advises them to take a few proactive steps:
- Confirm with both parties that the relationship is consensual to protect the employer from harboring sexual harassment.
- Don't allow spouses to supervise one another.
- Don't allow spouses or any relatives to work in checks-and-balances positions, such as one in charge of payables and another in charge of signing checks.
Most employers are sophisticated enough-and frankly, desperate to keep good workers-that they will allow couples unless there are problems. Companies, however, are legally entitled to have anti-nepotism and non-fraternization policies. "The hard part with the dating is how do you enforce it," Kurek asks.
"The bottom line," he says, "don't do it if you don't plan to enforce it.