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Sexual Harrassment on Valentines Day or Workplace Romance?

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Lets first start by setting the parameters of this lesson, first I am not talking about an extramarital affair. Two, this is not between a supervisor and a subordinate employee. This is a mess that I recommend everyone stay away from. Finally, this is between two employees who work together in the same company, department, or team.

With the parameters set, let’s talk. You might be asking, how do I know about this? Well, I met my wife of nineteen years, while we were working together in a very unique employment environment. We both worked in a Gun Store/shooting range in Las Vegas. She was the only female employee and I was the new guy. Our relationship did not begin right off from the start; the future romance was set in motion by natural events. We were both in relationships at the time we first met, so we got to know each other as people and not someone we wanted to date. Yes, there was a physical attraction, but as I said, we were both in relationship and had no need to act on that impulse. After time, our other relationships ended and we found ourselves both being single and as friends going out for a drink after work to talk to each other. This was the first time, outside of work, had we socially inter acted. This opened the door to a new conversational topic and we began dating, which lead to a 14 month engagement, and finally a wedding.

The problem we both understood and we both decided that for us both to survive at work, we would keep the relationship a secret. We both knew the owner of the company and all the other employees, would just make a problem out of it, as even though a few of them were much older they, were not that mature, and quit honestly, even though it was a male majority in the workplace, most of the guys acted like teenage girls with it came to gossip.

So rule #1: Keep it a secret. Why? Because we all know, no matter how mature you try to believe your co-workers and even your superiors are, when it comes to work place romances, your right back in Junior High School. Don’t tell anyone. I am not advocating dishonesty in the workplace, but personal romances outside of work are not the responsibility of your employer.

Rule #2: Do not tell anyone. I know, this repeats rule #1, but it’s important that you keep a secret a secret. Do not feel guilty or as if you’re ashamed of the romance. It’s because all relationships have a hard enough time without the unwanted harassment of gossip, rumors, and of course jealousy. Yes, this will mean sneaking around and being as covert as James Bond about your relationship, but trust me, if you want it to work out, it’s the best way. The other reason for the secrecy is if it does not work out, there is less collateral damage. Remember, think back to Jr. High, when the break up happen, then sides are chosen among friends, harmful and sometimes vulgar comments are made, friendships are ended, groups broken up, and while this may be survivable in Jr. High, it’s not in a workplace.

This is the reason, many companies have anti-fraternization rules. The after-drama is just not worth it. Yes, most fraternization policies are against the relationship of boss and employee, but some have them against employees dating. Are they against the law? No. A company has the right to choose and hire employees they want. As long as the policies were there before hand. Can they fire you? Yes, remember, Washington is an AT WILL hiring state. If they have an employment policy against employees fraternizing, its then up to the Employment Judge if you will receive unemployment or if it’s a wrongful termination. But again, if there is a policy in place and you violated it, the Judges do not care about the drama, they base their decisions on the facts of the case.

The biggest point I want to make clear on this topic is as the employer, they DO NOT CARE and should not have to about your personal relationships until they become a problem at work. So if your dating someone from accounting and now you’re not, but that person is now holding all the paperwork submitted to accounting as a retaliation for your breaking their heart (this is not just about woman, men are just as unprofessional in their heartbreaks in the work place). I worked in one location where a male who was recently dumped by a co-worker, keyed her car in the parking garage. Unfortunately, he was so consumed by his tears; he did not see the security cameras. Since the company owned the parking garage, it was considered an act of vandalism on company property and he was terminated as well as arrested for destruction of private property. Broken hearted, out of a job and no one in jail to hand him a tissue to wipe his tears.

I am not telling you to be dishonest with your employer and if your company does not have a NO FRATERNIZATION policy between employees, it is something to consider before you cross that line. I knew the second, my relationship with my future bride became public knowledge, and the owner of the company was going to find a reason to terminate one of us (me). Yeah, what you’re thinking is probably right. Small business thought he was protecting her from me. He was an older guy and had the father issue. This can happen even in big corporations, so keep that in mind.

Rule #3: Discretion is the better part of Valor: Do not send your romantic partner flowers, gifts, candy, cards, emails, or any incriminating evidence that can out your secret. I know, you’re going to be tempted. You’re going to get caught up in the excitement of the secret. Everyone does and that’s the problem with keeping them. You know something no one else does, so you have a certain power and being able make others guess about what you know that they don’t. You need to make a personal decision together and understand that are you in this romance for the relationship or is it a game? If it’s a game, well than maybe you need to find a better hobby.

Rule #4: Do not get caught in acts of public affection. You’re going to be tempted; you’re going to want to touch each other, even in a “professional” way. But it’s during that action, your Junior High co-workers will notice and change in behavior, “Sally never let Bill touch her before…?” Also, do not; I repeat, DO NOT think in your wildest fantasy that you’re going to get way with doing the deed in your office, cubical, parking garage, or supply closet. Leave those voyeuristic fantasies your homes. Again, this violates rules #1 and 2.

It’s amazing at how many people, even in today’s world of You Tube and other voyeur video displays that workplace romancers do not understand that Big Employer is watching. So many people get caught doing the deed in their cars on their lunch breaks. Discretion is needed at work.

Rule #5: When I said keep it private, that means PRIVATE. Do not post on your social media pages pictures of the two of you. Even the innocent ones, because it only takes one clue for everyone to become the relationship CSI. Do not publicize what your trying to keep private. Also, that friend who swears they will keep a secret, well you better get it in blood and/or have information on them to hold over their heads.

The final rule is when it’s time to tell others, make sure your ready for it. Make damn sure your ready for it. Because you’re going to find out just how Jr. High School your co-workers can be. Yes, many will be happy for you. Some will say, “I knew it,” and there is always someone who might be jealous. Someone who has been carrying a silent torch for one of you or your new partner and is now heartbroken. It’s not easy and again, if you’re not mature enough to handle the repercussions, than just don’t do it.

I would be a hypocrite if I told you it was not worth it, but successful workplace romances are rare. For every workplace relationship that does work out, there are probably 10 that do not. Now some will say, how I know this, well honestly working in Human Resources all these years for different companies, I have seen my share of the destructive workplace evidence of co-worker romances gone badly. It is not pretty.

So with that said, enjoy your Valentine’s Day.
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