Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Office Romances? Disclose and Sign an Agreement

medical practice romanceA medical practice - like any other employer -  must take great pains to protect itself regarding romantic relationships between employees or between employees and owners. Experts in HR law usually advise having a "no-romance" policy in the employee handbook that prohibits romantic relationships within the practice.

If a romance develops anyway - and circumstances prevent terminating both parties - the practice should require the couple to disclose the fact of the relationship and sign documentation indicating that the relationship is indeed consensual. It's likewise a good idea to review the practice's anti-sexual-harassment policy, too.


If the couple refuses to cooperate with admitting to their affair or signing documentation, then document the refusal in their employment records.

In either case, make it clear that if the relationship affects job performance or working relationships in the practice, they may lose their jobs. Other circumstances that may require termination include: one or both of the lovers is already married, the relationship is between a supervisor and a subordinate, or the couple engages in sexual behavior on the premises.

Pity the practice manager who first notices the signs of budding romance between two employees. Once a staff member falls in love with a fellow worker, you've entered dangerous waters. It's not usually the falling in love that poses problems - it's the fallout that accompanies a breakup that can create a real mess.

The problems can come earlier if at least one of the couple is already married. Even your more liberal-minded employees will likely consider it wrong to cheat on a spouse. Other disruptive factors may include displays of affection around the office or even engaging in sexual activity on company property. These behaviors disrupt an otherwise smooth-running office and can damage staff morale. If one of the paramours has a supervisory or ownership position, the problems will escalate intolerably.
Political correctness aside, the fact is that most men employed in medical practices hold positions of authority. Quite often, the only men in the office are doctors. If a physician takes up with one of the staff members, things can go horribly wrong in a number of ways:
  • The physician's lover may become unmanageable, feeling "safe" because of the relationship.
  • Other staff members will watch for any indication of "playing favorites."
  • A breakup could easily bring a vindictive charge of sexual harassment against the physician. As a practice leader - physician or administrator - the worst thing you could do (apart from having an affair with one of your employees) would be to ignore these difficult issues. Not only does it allow a situation to spin out of control toward disaster, but it sets you up to become a defendant in a discrimination suit if a jilted employee seeks revenge in the courts.
  • Not only does it put the practice at risk, but you individually could be named as well. You must be proactive in addressing sexual harassment these days. Pay for an expert in employment law to help you create a detailed written policy. Train every person in the organization about the policy - from top doc to the lowliest clerk. Then enforce the policy without exception and document everything.
Not doing enough simply invites disaster.