A Legal Guide to Dating a Coworker: The Dos and Don?ts

Spending a third of the day at work eventually leads to strong connections with coworkers. Besides forming friendships that can last a lifetime, many also develop deep feelings and fall for each other. A survey showed that most employees had formed some office romance; 58% have been involved with a colleague, and 72% of those over age 50 have had romantic relationships with workmates.

While office romances aren’t uncommon, you should still follow some guidelines to ensure that everything goes smoothly for the relationship and, most especially, the careers of those involved.

The Love Me Dos

Office romance can brew over time, but there are dos to starting and maintaining a relationship with a colleague.

Review the company’s policy about office dating

Many companies have rules about workplace relationships; some allow it with restrictions, while others completely forbid it. It’s important to go through your company handbook about their policy on dating a coworker.

Nearly half (41%) of employees are unaware of their company’s workplace romance policy, and continuing a relationship blindsided will only lead to consequences. Once you’re well informed about the regulations, you must tell the other party and discuss what to do. In cases where you have already violated a policy, it’s best to come clean to avoid breaking any more rules.

From a legal perspective, dating a coworker isn’t unlawful. It’s okay if the relationship doesn’t violate the federal law on sexual harassment in the office, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, or any other laws. You also need to maintain professionalism while engaging in an office romance.

After reviewing the company’s guidelines, be ready for possible repercussions and consider if the relationship you’re pursuing is worth the risk.

Be aware of the risks

Every relationship comes with risks, especially when you’re dating a coworker. There’s a chance of it working out, but it can also go the opposite. Relationships can turn sour and lead to an emotional fallout, damage, and a breakup.

According to a psychology and marketing professor at the University of Texas at Austin, Art Markman, “having multiple relationships with someone creates potential conflicts of interest that can be hard to resolve.” An office romance can jeopardize your reputation; people can question your professionalism, and other employees may assume special treatment or favoritism over your partner or vice versa.

As much as you want to remain hopeful about a relationship, be aware of the risks, consider other factors, then decide if you’re willing to go through them.

Disclose the relationship

Workplace relationships are more likely to be kept a secret, with 64% of employees remaining in the dark and only 16% feeling comfortable about sharing the information with coworkers. Being secretive about dating a coworker may affect your work performance and stir up rumors within the office. Hence, it’s better to disclose the relationship. It would be best if you start by informing your boss or superior.

If your relationship is against the company’s dating policy, it’s still important to make it known. Don’t be tempted to hide it to avoid disciplinary action or consequences. One way or another, people will find out, and it’s safer for the relationship to be out in the open, especially if you have good intentions.

Make sure the relationship is a good idea

Some relationships have agendas, even ulterior ones. Before stirring up an office romance, ensure you assess your motives and only continue pursuing a person because you genuinely have a connection with them. Otherwise, a fling is more likely to do more harm than good.

Random hookups happen in the workplace, with 18% of employees reporting they have been involved in one. Although this happens, a relationship founded on two people with good intentions is more likely to impact the workplace positively. There are fewer chances of colleagues thinking negatively about you, your partner, and the agenda of the relationship.

Engage with other colleagues

The initial stage of a relationship is usually filled with excitement, joy, and thrills. You can sometimes feel like you’re in a bubble with your partner with all the positive emotions you have. But it would be best to remember that there’s life outside of that, and you ought not to neglect it. Remember to spend time and interact with your coworkers.

When you mingle with others, remember not to overshare your relationship. It’s common to be so wrapped up in your office romance, which can take a toll on the workplace dynamic. Maintaining the usual conversations and practices you have with your workmates is best.

Have a post-breakup plan

Sit down with your partner and discuss the chances of leaving the company or transferring to a different department. Some relationships end, and this is the harsh reality. Thus, planning and preparing for what lies after the potential breakup is wise.

The bottom line for breakups is that you two must be civil as much as possible. Just as you disclosed your relationship to your workmates when it started, you must also let them know if you ended it.

The Love Me Don’ts

Now that you know what to do when dating a coworker, it’s time to go through actions you should avoid or not do. Following the items listed below will save you the damage, consequences, and time.

Never commit sexual harassment

One of the most important things with workplace relationships is that they should be completely consensual. You and your partner must be on the same page about the relationship and have the same or similar motives. If consent is out of the picture, that translates to sexual harassment and violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

You shouldn’t tolerate unlawful acts; report such incidents and do what you can to prevent them. If you find yourself a victim of this crime, a sexual harassment lawyer can help you.

Nonetheless, hookups, flings, and casual office romances are discouraged because they can result in chaos, especially since you’re working together. Being involved in these relationships can affect your reputation, work performance, office dynamic, and many other aspects.

Don’t let disagreements affect work performance

Issues and conflicts naturally arise in a relationship, but you shouldn’t address these in the workplace. Dating a coworker doesn’t permit you to bring arguments to the office and should certainly not affect your work performance. A part of professionalism is being able to leave problems at home or keep them out of the office.

Don’t show public displays of affection

Another deed to steer clear of is the public display of affection (PDA). There should be no calling each other special nicknames, holding hands, kissing, or other forms of affection. Even if you’re madly in love with each other and have good intentions, you shouldn’t be showing signs of a relationship in the workplace.

When you treat your partner the same as your colleagues, they’ll get the impression that there’s no favoritism or inequality. Avoiding PDA will also show that you two are professional and won’t let your relationship affect work matters

Don’t date subordinates or superiors

Before dating a coworker, you need to consider office politics and hierarchy. Avoid getting entangled romantically with subordinates or superiors because colleagues will have predispositions.

It can also be difficult to give an objective performance review of someone you’re involved with. For example, if you date your superior, others might think you’ll have special treatment and be in the lead for promotions. It’s still best to avoid these types of relationships even if your company allows it or you’re sure that you can stay professional.

Engaging with your subordinates or superiors can ruin your reputation and negatively impact your career.

Don’t spend too much time together in the office

Having a happy bubble with your partner is normal, but you shouldn’t take this in the office. Avoid excessive time together in the workplace and choose to interact with other colleagues. Doing so will prevent inactivity and backlogs with your work responsibilities. At the same time, the team will have a better impression of your relationship, and you can maintain a harmonious work environment.

Don’t be close-minded about leaving the company

When you start dating a coworker, you must consider that your relationship may end one day. A sour breakup may force you or your partner to depart from the company or transfer to another department. But it’s also possible to leave for different reasons, such as saving the relationship because you prioritize it.

Either way, you need to be open to the idea that starting an office romance may lead you to explore alternatives for your career path. Discussing these matters with your partner is always best to be prepared for future possibilities.

Mixing Love and Work is Complicated

Firing up an office romance sounds exciting for others, but there’s a lot to keep in mind. There are company policies to review, colleagues to consider, and reputations to protect. To minimize conflict and make a connection last, you must know intimate workplace relationships’ do’s and don’ts.

If you have questions or concerns about workplace relationships, Shegerian & Associates is willing to help you. Visit our website for more information or to make an appointment with us.

Manuela Varela

Relations Manager

Manuela Varela has been with Shegerian & Associates since August 2022. She is responsible for outreach and marketing on behalf of the firm and manages relationships between firms and referring attorneys. She is also responsible for developing business opportunities and affiliations. Manuela graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Economics and Political Science.