Written by Afolabi Funto Seun
Fraternization according to Wikipedia is “turning people into brothers” by conducting social relations with people who are actually unrelated and/or of a different class as if they were siblings, family members, personal friends or lovers.
Fraternization in the workplace commonly means relationships, romantic or otherwise, between people who occupy different levels of authority of power, for example, a teacher and a student or in this case, a boss and an employee.
Fraternization can and usually threatens the decency of the official relationship among people, which is why many organizations develop policies to discourage it. However, Fraternization among employees is not uncommon. Employees spend extended time together, maybe even more time than is spent with family relations and having daily relations with each other may lead to a natural progression, in which a friendly relationship between coworkers can ensue.
Positive employee interactions are the basis of a positive corporate culture and helps boost employee morale but if relationships go beyond basic friendship and some employees begin to date each other, relationships may go south. These dangers birthed the non-fraternization policies in many organizations.
A huge risk for employers is when two people in the office develop a romantic relationship and they are not on the same level, for example, a manager and an attendant. This can and will most likely lead to a power dynamic, which is risky for the business.
Fraternizing with a coworker who is considered an equal may not necessarily pose the same power dynamic issues that fraternization with a superior does, but some of the other issues are common in both cases. Issues such as, excluding other employees in conversations and possibly in new opportunities, leading to frustration and resentment from the excluded workers, uncomfortable public display of affection in the workplace, yelling, screaming and crying behind closed office doors when relationships go sour or throwing daggers at each other with the eyes while making others uncomfortable.
However, for all the problems that fraternization in the workplace poses, many have met their spouses through work.
It is highly unlikely that an employee can legally create a “no dating ” policy for the employees, as a policy that restricts an employee’s free choice to legal and lawful things can be viewed as an infringement or violation of an employee’s rights. But, employers have a right to take disciplinary actions if an employee violates the law. When it comes to lawful activity though, termination is construed as wrongful termination.
What an employer can do is, create a written policy that is integrated into the employee manual and the policy should focus on how relationships, romantic or otherwise, can affect the productivity and efficiency of the team. The policy should be progressive in its administration, starting with a minor reprimand, such as a verbal warning and escalating into something more severe such as transfer or termination if the activity does not change and the productivity issues are significant enough.
Policies like this can help nip infidelity and sexual harassment in the bud but it can also restrict employees from developing close friendships with coworkers and make superiors afraid of anything that could be perceived as inappropriate even if it’s a compliment on a coworker’s new hairstyle.
Along with non-fraternization or no dating policies, it would be wise for employers to hold company-wide training in communication, anti-discrimination and inclusion. Training is a key factor in preventing employee relationships from becoming a threat and toxin to the productivity of the team and company at large.