Want A Kiss? Sign This: Office Romances And ‘Love Contracts’

Joanna Schroeder thinks corporate “love contracts” may help protect against harassment and false accusations.

As my husband says, “You shouldn’t fish off the company pier.”

We all know that inter-office romance is a bad idea: hurt feelings, uncomfortable requests for toner in the supply room, evil glances over the cubicle partitions from the dumpee’s friends in the general direction of the dumper…

But Courtney Subramanian’s Time.com piece, Office Romance: Would You Sign a Contract To Date A Colleague? leads to something more serious, citing a growing trend in companies to lift a ban on office romances, and instead require would-be lovers to sign contracts as to the consensual nature of the relationship.

Signing a contract seems so forced, so cold, so… un-romantic, doesn’t it? Well, here’s what’s even less romantic:

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 11,364 charges were filed alleging sexual harassment in the workplace last year.

And those are the numbers for reported incidences. How many people quit their jobs because a romance went awry and their former lover used more subtle, perhaps less obviously illegal tactics to pressure their ex to bail on a job?

And how many of those sexual harassment suits were bogus? There’s no way for anyone to know, but it seems to me that when we’re talking about people’s livelihoods, whether you’re the alleged harasser or the harass-ee (especially in an economy like ours), a contract is a pretty good idea.

I know, it doesn’t feel like a free country when people are required to sign contracts about sex and love, but a corporation is a volunteer organization, not a governing body, so they can require all sorts of contracts, such as non-competition and non-disclosure agreements. Some companies even require signatures on contracts of morality, so this is nothing new.

While ultimately I agree with the expert quoted in the Time.com interview when she says that education and information about how to stop sexual harassment are probably the most important steps toward preventing harassment, a contract can be an opportunity to, at the very least, help outline proper behavior and teach people how sexual harassment happens and what it looks like.

Ultimately, these so-called “love contracts” are mostly just a CYA for the company to protect its assets. But if signing a contract encourages employees to think twice before revealing assets of their own, it’s probably not such a bad thing.

Or is there a better way?

For more on “Love Contracts” read Jamie Reidy’s Contractually Bound – But Not In A Kinky Way.

Photo Courtesy of Victor1

About Joanna Schroeder

Joanna Schroeder is a feminist writer and editor with a special focus in issues facing raising boys and gender in the media. Her work has appeared on Redbook, Yahoo!, xoJane, MariaShriver.com, TIME.com, and more. She and her husband are outdoor sports enthusiasts raising very active sons. She is currently co-editing a book of essays for boys and young men with author and advocate Jeff Perera. Follow her shenanigans on Twitter.


  1. Tom Brechlin says:

    “According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 11,364 charges were filed alleging sexual harassment in the workplace last year.” Key word “alleged”
    Anita Hill? Really? But that goes to show that there is nothing out there to help men deal with harassment at work. It does happen you know? I don’t see men responding to this as women are quick to the keyboard.
    In the 70’s I was harassed and didn’t realize it until years later. Setting … My boss (female) and I had meetings with UAW in Detroit. She flew in before me and when I checked into the hotel, there was a message from her at check in to call her after I checked in. Keep in mind I’d been married for 8 years and my wife was several months pregnant with our daughter. When I got to my room I called my boss. She asked me to come to her room and that we would go out for an early dinner. I said I would be right down. When she opened the door, she was in her bra and half slip. To say the least I was blown away. She told me to come in. I went to the phone while explaining to her that I’d not called my wife yet. Two months later she and I had meetings with a medical center and UAW in southern Illinois. It was a weekend. Company policy is that we can take family members on these trips but we have to pay their way. I brought my wife and baby daughter with me. When I arrived in Peoria, there was a message that my boss had called me. When I spoke to her, she was pissed that I’d booked a boom for myself at a different hotel and that I’d brought my wife. My intent had nothing to do with what happen in Detroit, I simply wanted to spend time with my daughter. The hotel I chose was one that I was familiar and liked whereas she was booked at a Hyatt.
    Given her major attitude about my bringing my wife and daughter and being at a different hotel, there is no doubt that she had ulterior motive. From that point on her work relationship me deteriorated. I left the company about two months later.
    A few years later, at another fortune 500 company, One of my fellow female account executives came into my office. An attractive male client had come in and several of the females were all hot and bothered. She talked about how hot he was. A little while later the client went to the rest room. Two of the associated came into my office and asked that I follow him and check him out for them. Excuse me?
    Same company … a fellow associate who was attractive went to lunch with me. Sitting at the table, she stuck her leg out to show me her shoes. She did in fact have great legs. They were stacked heels. She said to me and I quote because it was the first time I’d heard the term, Ya know what there are, don’t ya? “They’re called CFM shoes” aka Come F**k me shoes.
    How many other men experience this kind of thing? What seminars are out there for men? Being married and a devoted husband and father, I was never interested but I know there are a lot of men who experience this. They respond, she gets pissed and he’s done with. Men are far less likely to report this kind of thing for the same reason as women but also add the fact that men are pegged as being wimps if they were to do so.

  2. Actually anyone here watch Brothers and Sisters? There’s an episode where one of the characters has a one-off fling with an employee and there’s a bit about them writing up a contract while in the heat of the moment. It’s a bit silly, but then it’s supposed to be silly.

    Anyway…I saw it and I thought, hey yeah that’s a good idea. We live in a world where employers do take advantage of their employees….and in a world where jilted lovers can try to file sexual harassment suits in order to screw over their former partners. Signing some sort of contract could help prevent the later from happening. It kind of reminds me of a prenuptial agreement.

  3. wellokaythen says:

    I’m curious how the company love contract would handle an employee dating more than one employee at the same company. Would an employee be compelled to publicly declare his intention to date multiple people? Would each of those people have to approve the same contract for it to be valid? Or would it be multiple bilateral contracts for each relationship?

    Also, I wonder how the human resources office or the supervisor would handle a love contract for a married employee who is dating someone other than his/her spouse – what is the employer’s duty in that case, to help the marriage or respect the employee’s contract? Should the company assume that it’s not an open marriage until proven otherwise?

    I can see all sorts of messy situations that embroil the company itself.

  4. Of course, there would need to be escape clauses in the highly likely event that the two people will stop dating but continue to work together. There would have to some way to officially end the contract and let the company know about it so everyone knows it’s over. Of course, there would also need to be a re-activation clause as well, for when you want to get back together occasionally for booty calls.

    I like the idea in a lot of ways, though I’m a little reluctant to let my employer have too much control over my romantic relationships. What we do at the copy machine is one thing, but what we do at home in private is none of their business.

  5. Anthony Zarat says:

    As much as I hate agreeing with you, this is a wonderful idea.

    Of course, MRAs have been talking about this kind of safety instrument for a long time. Ideally, people have no interaction with the opposite gender at all. Absent this, a contract and strong video evidence is the best defence.

    • “Ideally, people have no interaction with the opposite gender at all.”

      Well I think there’s all sorts of problems with that. But the easiest one to mention is that not all people have relationships with the opposite gender. So what, would I only work with gay men, because I’m a lesbian? But then what the heck would bisexual people do?

      So yeah, I’m all for these contracts. It makes things a lot easier to figure out if the relationship goes belly up.

  6. Julie Gillis says:

    It’s a CYA for the company, not for the people in the company….that being said, I’m not sure what else to do in a world where people can act so terribly to each other. Harassment is real, false accusations should be taken seriously, and people are gonna want to date the people they are around 60 hours a week.
    Weird times.

  7. I think to protect the person who is in a lower power status is the goal….I was very young when I was approached by my mentor…he had that terrible power over me…he used a mixture of manipulation, coercion, and threats to keep me from telling…Many people do not tell their stories because they are afraid…

    I went to the Anita Hill conference a few months ago…and it is so degrading to hear her testimony again and the ignorance and arrogance of the congressmen….but heartening to feel the camaraderie of an auditorium full of people who had endured similar stories….

    I suppose with the advent of camera phones/video it will be easier to document incidents of sexual harassment…no one would have believed me back then…it would have been my word against his…although he was the adult, the person in charge and should have honored his responsibility to be professional…I suppose some people get off on their abuse of power…

    • Joanna Schroeder says:

      Leia, I’m sorry that happened to you. Ugh. I had a similar experience when I was young, and when the job didn’t really matter.

      Glad you found the Anita Hill conference to be reassuring, at least in part.

      When that case happened, I was in sixth or seventh grade, and I remember wearing a pin that said, “I believe Anita Hill”… It must’ve been quite controversial in our little town to have such a small person making such a statement. I guess I’m not much different now 😉


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