At certain companies, there are hard rules to dating your coworker.
A new Wall Street Journal report found that at Facebook, dating employees is treated with a one-and-done strike policy: employees are only allowed to ask a coworker out once. If the coworker is not interested, the other coworker must move on and cannot ask them out again. And Facebook is defining a dating rejection broadly. According to Heidi Swartz, Facebook’s global head of employment law, ambivalent ‘no‘s like “I’m busy” or “I can’t that night,” count as an answer.
Google confirmed to the Journal that the company has had a similar dating policy since 2004. In a follow-up interview with Gizmodo, Google clarified that it does not have the strict one-and-done policy that Facebook has and employees are not restricted in how many times they can ask out a coworker. But according to Google’s code of conduct, if your romantic relationship with a coworker causes “an actual or apparent conflict,” you could risk termination.
The report follows more companies grappling with how to handle workplace harassment, a topic that has gained national awareness this fall. Explicit company policies, or “love contracts” as some human resources professionals call them, give employees clarity on how they should behave at work.
Through this lens, it makes sense that Facebook and Google have explicit office romance policies since Silicon Valley is known for blurring the lines between work and play. Bloomberg reported that Yelp has a “keg refrigerator” and Twitter stocks wine and beer in its office fridges. When coworkers hang out and drink together at work, the lines between a colleague and potential romantic partner can get harder to read.
The tricky challenge HR professionals face is providing clarity without policing unnecessary behavior. You want to treat your employees like adults while not enabling a culture of workplace harassment. How can employers enforce this policy when flirtation can already be ambiguous?
That’s the question one ex-Google employee had. “I didn’t know if people were asking me out or not,” ex-Googler Anna Wood told the Journal about incidents where happy hour drinks with coworkers turned out to mean something more.
Monica Torres is a reporter for Ladders. She is based in New York City and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.