Office Romance: How Not to Get Fired or Sued

by Jessica Zartler / February 12, 2016

It’s all fun and games until someone gets in a lawsuit.
Office romance – at its best it can lead to amicable feelings about an open company environment, energize morale, motivate employees to work harder and open new lines of communication.

At its worst, flings within a company can complicate work relationships, create a decrease in productivity, a conflict of interest or even spark harassment and hostile work environment lawsuits.

According to a survey by CareerBuilder.com, it is inevitable – two out of every five people have dated a coworker. So how do project managers, companies and employees handle it?

Here are five tips to avoid the mess of broken hearts and HR nightmares.

Have and Know the Rules

For the manager - make sure your company has a policy to deal with office romance. It should outline your expectations for handling colleague relationships and a course of action if problems arise with sexual harassment, favoritism or a hostile work environment. Make sure it allows for a complaint process, investigation in a non-biased manner and steps of escalation if the problem keeps happening.

This can provide some shielding for you and your company if legal action were filed. But if you take the time to educate your employees about the policies, hopefully you can avoid this all together.

For the employee - know the company policy. If there isn’t one, ask for a confidential conversation with your human resources department to find out. If there isn’t one, suggest to your company that this may be a good addition. Know your rights and do your research. If you feel you have been wronged somehow, seek legal advice.

Be Professional

If you are involved with a colleague, discretion is key. Keep private and business life separate as much as possible. That includes displays of affection and talking over company chat or email applications which may be monitored.

Don’t reveal too much or talk about your relationship to coworkers at work. Notice if the relationship is taking over time and energy while you are working and keep in mind your supervisor may have to ask you to end the relationship or leave your job if it is affecting your work performance.

Keep Hierarchy in Mind

A workplace romance can have enough tangles, know that if you or your employees start dating subordinates or bosses, things could get more complicated.

Dating different levels can have a huge impact on movement and promotions within the company and invite accusations of favoritism. Avoid dating someone above or below you, someone you work with directly and plan for this in the company policy.

Weigh the Career Risks

If your focus is finding a life partner, maybe it is worth it to look for a new job if things are going well with your romantic partner/colleague. If this is a huge step for you in your career path, maybe you should look again at the risks or effects this could have on your advancement if you plan to stay with the company. Plan for the worst and hope for the best.

Talk to Your Partner

If you are in an office romance, talk to your partner about all of these things first - before things get too serious. No one wants to talk about a break up, but in this case it is not just the relationship at stake but your job or even career.

You will also need to talk about how to take vacation time or sick days without creating problems in the office and things may change as the relationship develops. Keep the lines of communication open.

Office romances may be a little more complicated, but if handled professionally and with open communication and information, they can not only spark a beautiful love match and partnership but create good feelings in the office without losing any of the productivity.

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