An answer to a Workplace question raised my curiosity. The idea is that a company could legally (contractually) forbid its employees to have a relationship.

Is this at all possible somewhere? (The discussion under that answer seems to point to the US).

How is "relationship" defined in such a case? Talking OK but holding hands not OK? Going to the cinema OK but sleeping together not OK?


Contracts are allowed to address or stipulate anything that is not illegal. Employers are generally allowed to apply restrictions that do not discriminate against protected characteristics. I.e., unless there is a law against it, employers are almost certainly allowed to regulate the relationships between employees.

In the U.S. this is quite common. For example, many companies have "anti-nepotism" and/or "fraternization" policies. The former restricts employment of people with a (usually pre-existing) familial relationship. The latter restricts behavior that could be perceived as "dating." Sometimes the restrictions only apply to employees with a supervisor/subordinate relationship, but it is not unusual to see a blanket prohibition.

  • Interesting - work contracts in the EU cannot regulate anything outside the employment law. Specifically, they cannot regulate anything which is not related to your work. In other words, the employment law states that A, B and C must be in place, and that D can be discussed within strict limits. Relationship between people are completely outside the official concerns of an employer.
    – WoJ
    Oct 21 '15 at 21:30
  • Also: how is "relationship" defined? (this is the essence of my question)
    – WoJ
    Oct 21 '15 at 21:31
  • 1
    @WoJ - For nepotism it is defined by law: E.g., legal marriage, children, relatives within some degree. For fraternization it is the appearance that is at stake, and it most certainly bears on the workplace: If someone in a supervisory position appears to have a relationship with a subordinate then it colors all of their supervisory work as being unfairly biased towards that subordinate. In this sense, practice and the policy align: If the relationship can be kept a secret, then there's no problem. If it comes out, that's exactly when there is a problem. One knows it when one sees it.
    – feetwet
    Oct 21 '15 at 21:45
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    For some specific occupations such as accountants there are rules that apply inside the EU as well. When I was working for an auditing firm all employees (no matter the occupation) were required to know these rules and do a mandatory test to confirm their acknowledgment (in the Netherlands). Oct 21 '15 at 23:06

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