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Employment lawyers are warning love-struck co-workers to take precautions in the office before locking lips outside. Aside from prohibiting office affairs altogether, some companies are considering “love contracts,” which help to protect them from a sexual harassment suit if two employees are dating and it ends badly. So-called love contracts confirm that a relationship is consensual, state the ground rules for office behavior and reiterate sexual harassment policies, said Stephen Tedesco, a partner in the San Francisco office of Littler Mendelson who has completed hundreds of the contracts for his clients over the past few years. Tedesco said the idea came around five years ago when two executives at a client company wanted to protect themselves and the company from sexual harassment claims. Since then, numerous other law firms have followed suit, he said. The use of love contracts is “not a majority rule yet, but it’s increasing,” said April Boyer, an employment partner in Kirkpatrick & Lockhart Nicholson Graham’s Miami office. “Some employers are going beyond traditional.” Tedesco declined to name any client companies who use love contracts as their office policy, due to privacy. “It’s a recurring issue, and frankly will remain so,” Tedesco said. “It protects the employees and it protects the company. Quite a few sexual harassment issues come out of relationships that are consensual, then cease to be consensual.” Boyer echoed that sentiment. “One or two scenarios can occur,” she said. “One can claim that the party was never consensual, or if one doesn’t want the party to end, then they get into conduct after it ends that potentially exposes the employer to liability.” There’s also the issue of favorable (or unfavorable) treatment if the couple is a manager and subordinate who work in the same department. Some companies, if able, will move employees into separate departments to avoid possible tension from a relationship, or will prohibit employees in the same department from dating. Some companies have prohibited co-workers from dating altogether, but “the reality is the problem of enforcing it,” Boyer said. “Besides protecting yourself from the legal issues, the employer’s main objective is to have a functioning workplace,” Boyer said. “Love spats in the workplace can upset that.” She admitted that contracts may seem unromantic, but they’re a means of protecting the employer, above all else. “[Love contracts are] intrusive, but I think that what the employer is trying to do is say, ‘We recognize the reality of what might happen, and we have to set the parameters,’” Boyer continued. “It’s an employer’s compromise.”

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