Office Romances: Weighing the Risks

People today spend a lot of time at work, so it's no surprise the workplace is one of the top places to meet potential romantic partners. In fact, according to the most recent annual office romance survey from CareerBuilder, nearly 40 percent of workers say they have dated a coworker at least once in their career, and one in five say they've dated their boss.

With so many people dating coworkers and a surprisingly substantial number of them dating the boss, it's a wonder there isn't a shortage of employment law attorneys to handle all the repercussions.

Those repercussions come in many forms, from office gossip because one or both of the parties are married to the coworker who turns out to be a stalker and now has 40-hour-a-week access to his or her object of affection.

If you're attracted to someone in the office, it's not necessarily a bad thing. After all, President Barack Obama met First Lady Michelle in the workplace. You just want to be sure you exercise extra caution.

These tips can help:

Make sure you know that person really well before beginning a romantic relationship. You want to be sure that person is mature and emotionally healthy and that any potential breakup won't interfere with your work or how much you enjoy it.

Check company policies to make sure you aren't violating any rules. Some companies have non-fraternization policies. While they can be difficult to enforce, they can jeopardize your job. Plus, even companies who don't have a written policy to that effect may view no-dating rules as implicit.

Conduct your relationship on your own time. That means don't use company email to send notes to each other, even to confirm a date; don't text each other using company phones, unless, of course, it's work related; and do not hook up in the break room. Some employers have policies regarding personal use of company equipment. Even if they don't, if a harassment claim arises from the relationship, you will have left plenty of evidence.

Avoid romantic relationships with the boss. Romantic relationships between workers and their supervisors are the most risky of all. When they end - and even if they don't - the parties will be subjecting themselves to a variety of discrimination and harassment issues.

Even in consensual relationships (and breakups), how is the supervisor to handle raises or performance reviews objectively and without consideration for the romantic ramifications? Even if the boss is objective, there's ample room for the subordinate to claim the boss had some sort of prejudice. And if not the subordinate in the relationship, the claims certainly can come from office peers.

If you're attracted to the boss and the boss is attracted to you, or vice versa, and you're confident you want to explore the romantic relationship, take steps for one of the parties to get a new assignment. Getting involved with the boss is never a good idea.

If this article comes too late for you and you're already caught in a situation where you're being harassed, you do have options. If your ex-paramour is behaving offensively at the office - leaving obscene gifts or messages or otherwise disrupting your work - talk to someone in your human resources department. If you're afraid for your safety, seek a harassment injunction, which works like a restraining order. Just do it with the understanding that the rest of your coworkers then will know what happened.

Like so many other business decisions, you need to weigh whether an office romance is worth the risk. The heart wants what it wants, but that's no excuse for the brain to step aside.

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