According to a study by online dating site eHarmony, more people meet their spouses at work or school than anywhere else. In fact, some high profile couples -– Bill and Melinda Gates, for example -– began their romances in the office. Before you head off to work thinking that you’ll come home with an annual bonus and a husband, though, you need to know your company’s policies on co-workers dating. While some companies are lax when it comes to relationships outside of work, others strictly prohibit off-hours fraternization between employees.
Why Policies are Necessary
In an era when sexual harassment is a real concern for organizations, the notion of two employees dating each other does have potential for some tricky policy questions. Some argue that if both parties are in a consensual relationship, what they do on their own time has no bearing on the company and should not be prohibited. Others argue that when two co-workers are in a relationship, it has the potential to create uncomfortable situations for everyone -– imagine a staff meeting where two team members have been arguing about their relationship, and those feelings spill over into the meeting -– and thus dating should be prohibited. No one wants to hear about how a co-worker leaves his socks on the floor, or other more personal details.
Common Policy Features
While dating is a concern to human resources departments, few companies have actually instituted policies regarding romantic relationships between employees. In fact, law professor Merrick Rossein of the City University of New York estimates that only about a quarter of all companies have such policies. Most company dating policies focus on the working relationship between the two parties; in other words, they prohibit supervisors or managers from dating their subordinates. Such a policy prevents situations where there’s perceived or actual favoritism, or, should the relationship go bad, retaliation or a sexual harassment claim.
While most companies that prohibit dating among co-workers focus on the supervisor–subordinate relationship, some prohibit dating for other reasons. Turning the office into a virtual singles bar creates distractions, as gossip and speculation can run rampant, and some couples aren’t able to maintain a professional relationship from 9 to 5. More importantly, organizations are concerned about potentially embarrassing situations that come from romantically involved employees. Steamy e-mails and texts sent on company time over corporate networks, for example, could cause some discomfort for the company PR team if they are made public.
Managing Employee Romantic Relationships
Sometimes, avoiding a workplace romance may seem all but impossible. That guy in accounting is just too charming to avoid –- and his feelings about you are mutual. Before you plan your night on the town though, check into your company’s policies on dating. If there isn’t one, then you’re in the clear. If your employer does have a policy, though, adhere to it. You might be thinking, “What they don’t know won’t hurt them,” but if you’re caught violating the policy, you could be facing the unemployment line. If it’s your boss that’s whispering sweet nothings, you may be able to request a transfer to another department or position to stay in compliance -– just be sure that he’s worth adjusting your career path for before you fill out the paperwork. And above all, no matter whom you’re dating and your company’s policy, keep your interactions professional and work-related at all times. Afternoon trysts in the supply closet are only fun on television.
An adjunct instructor at Central Maine Community College, Kristen Hamlin is also a freelance writer on topics including lifestyle, education, and business. She is the author of Graduate! Everything You Need to Succeed After College (Capital Books), and her work has appeared in Lewiston Auburn Magazine, Young Money, USA Today and a variety of online outlets. She has a B.A. in Communication from Stonehill College, and a Master of Liberal Studies in Creative Writing from the University of Denver.