Love is in the air -- in the workplace. According to Advancing Women, a website devoted to helping women succeed in business, more than 70 percent of people who are single will become romantically involved with a person at work. An office romance can be risky on many fronts, even if you’re single -- legal problems, public embarrassment and detrimental career effects. You could suffer all of those and more if you’re married and playing footsie at the office.
The legal complications of a workplace affair tend to occur when there’s some sort of corporate scandal or if you are subjected to accusations of harassment, according to Advancing Women. For example, Bernard Kerik -- who was a presidential nominee to become Homeland Security chief – had an affair with book publisher Judith Regan. Regan was dragged into the scandal when Kerik was accused of professional improprieties. When a workplace lover runs afoul of the legal system, you could find yourself in the witness box or even be named as an accomplice. If the person with whom you thought you had a consensual relationship wants to get back at you for a break-up, sexual harassment claims may fly.
In California, employers may be subjected to sexual favoritism claims if workplace romances go awry, according to a March 2008 article at FindLaw for Legal Professionals. The California Supreme Court decided that sexual favoritism could be construed as a form of sexual harassment. In the case brought before the court, the warden of the Valley State Prison for Women gave preferential employment treatment to those women with whom he was having affairs. The preferential treatment included benefits and promotions given to the warden’s lovers, and the court said these actions created a hostile workplace for other employees, which is illegal.
Effects on the Office
An office romance can affect the office as a whole, according to a 2007 article in the “International Journal of Business Research.” The author reported that studies have shown that productivity, work motivation, job satisfaction and morale can be enhanced by an office romance, but there can also be negative impacts. For example, lateral relationships, in which both lovers are of roughly equal status, don’t cause the negative effects associated with a boss-subordinate relationship. When the boss has a cuddle-bunny and this is known throughout the office, it’s much more likely that people will make accusations of favoritism and preferential treatment. If a break-up occurs, people may take sides, creating further divisiveness.
When it's Personal
From a personal standpoint, an office affair that goes badly can be disastrous. If you are the low person on the totem pole, it’s much more likely that you will be asked to leave the organization than a senior executive with whom you had an affair. Even if you have a romance with someone who is your professional equal, if you break up, it’s likely to be uncomfortable working with that ex and you may choose to leave on your own. And if you’re married -- well, the average spouse is going to take a dim view of your office affair and you may find yourself in divorce court.
Beth Greenwood is an RN and has been a writer since 2010. She specializes in medical and health topics, as well as career articles about health care professions. Greenwood holds an Associate of Science in nursing from Shasta College.