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[Guide] How to Handle Office Romances in Your Dental Practice

UPDATED 9/22/23

Your dental team spends a great deal of time together every week. Great friendships often emerge. However, sometimes feelings run more profound, and an office romance emerges.

In fact, a recent survey found that 50 percent of U.S. office workers report having a crush on a co-worker at some point. 

In addition, the survey also found that around 33 percent of office workers report they are currently involved in a romantic relationship that started at their workplace. This figure is six percent higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic began. While finding a romantic partner at the workplace is nothing new, they can bring new challenges into your dental practice. 

The emergence of the Me Too movement in recent years has shed light on the many problems that can arise when clear workplace boundaries are not established. To protect your dental practice from team conflicts and sexual harassment claims, you must evaluate your current policies for relationships between co-workers and work to establish clear workplace boundaries and expectations for all employees.

Read on to learn more about handling office romances in your dental practice properly.

Office Romance Policies in Your Dental Practice

While some organizations have formal, written HR company policies for office romances in place, a survey conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that 77 percent of U.S. office workers say their employer does not require them to disclose a workplace romance. Unfortunately, not taking the necessary precautions regarding workplace romances can lead to significant challenges, or even litigation, down the road.  

These problems intensify when a couple breaks up, especially when the breakup gets nasty! 

Here are some of the things that could happen:

  • Rampant gossip

  • Conflict

  • A negative impact on productivity (which could influence patient care)

  • A toxic environment

  • Favoritism

  • Sexual harassment claims

  • Lawsuits 

With this in mind, it's essential that you protect your dental practice through a thorough and well-established HR handbook that regulates all types of romantic relationships that occur within the office. 

How an Employee Handbook Regulates Workplace Romance in Your Dental Practice

You can't stop employees from seeing each other outside of your dental practice, but you can create effective HR policies to help lower your liability if something goes awry in the work environment. You should include office romance policies in your employee handbook, so everyone understands the rules. It's also important to have sexual harassment, conflicts of interest, and discrimination policies, and include these in your handbook too. 

If a workplace relationship leads to an internal investigation, for whatever reason, use digital HR tools like cloud-based document vaults and e-signatures when collecting and storing evidence and statements from employees in your dental practice.  

What To Include in Your Office Romance Company Policy

There are no federal or local laws that forbid workplace relationships in your dental practice. So, you're free to create your own HR policies on office romance, just the way you like. 

Here are some questions to consider:

  • Will you forbid all office romance in your practice?

  • If office romance is allowed, should you implement love contracts for long-term relationships?

  • How will you restrict public displays of affection?

  • Will you limit fraternization between supervisors and their subordinates or between teammates to prevent romantic relationships in your practice?

  • Should employees keep relationships in real life outside your practice?

  • What are the consequences for employees not following HR policies?

Think about the answers to these questions when compiling romantic workplace relationship policies for your handbook. We've compiled five employee handbook must-haves so you can protect your dental practice from expensive lawsuits. (Be sure to have a law firm review your company policies.) Some dental teams reserve employee handbooks for new hires, but you should give handbooks to all employees every time you update your policies.

Tip: HR for Health lets you customize employee handbooks based on the bespoke needs of your dental practice. Learn more here

dentistry employee handbooks hr for health mockupProvide Romantic Relationship Training to Office Managers in Your Dental Practice

Once you've updated (and distributed) your employee handbook, provide romantic relationship training to HR leaders and office managers so they can support dental employees. When tensions grow after a relationship in the office breaks down, this support should include conflict resolution.  

Office managers should know how to:

  • Handle gossip

  • Mitigate tension in your practice

  • Make sure a breakup doesn't impact productivity or patient care

  • Address more severe issues like sexual harassment

  • An office manager, however, should never get emotionally involved in an office romantic relationship. 

Recommended Reading: Addressing Conflict in the Workplace

How HR for Health Can Help

Whatever policies you decide for office romance, be clear and upfront. Ensure all dental practice employees know your company policy on office relationships. (The best way to do this is to include them in a customized employee manual.) You should also treat all policy violations similarly and address any harassment or discrimination claims immediately. 

To learn more about how HR for Health can help you develop policies specific to your dental practice, schedule an HR Consultation here.

Schedule an HR Consultation