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Workplace romance: from the company’s perspective

Workplace romance: from the company's perspective
Workplace romance: from the company's perspective

Romance may not be on your mind when hunting for your next job, but if you’re single, you’ve got a pretty fair chance of finding a love interest at your next workplace. That may sound great (and there’s a right and a wrong way to pursue that relationship), but you’ll need to keep in mind that the two of you are not the only ones impacted by your romance.

Take a look at what attorneys recommend to companies and be prepared to follow whatever policies your new employer may have in place. This comes from Ann Margaret Pointer, a partner with the law firm of Fisher and Phillips where she has represented management in labor and employment matters for more than 30 years:

If a manager is thinking about entering into a “welcome relationship” with a subordinate, my advice is to think again. Even if both parties welcome the relationship at the beginning, things can turn badly and costly for the employer and the individual in a heartbeat. I would say nobody should consider entering into a casual relationship with someone in the “chain of command,” ever. And that means anyone with whom the higher-level employee might affect in terms of pay, benefits, work opportunities, introductions to customers, clients, etc. Just don’t.

If the parties welcome the relationship and they feel like they need to “see where it will lead” (meaning that the relationship has the potential to be a “serious” one), they should not keep it a secret within the business or organization. For that reason, I am inclined not to recommend that companies adopt a policy of “absolutely no personal relationships on pain of termination.” It is better if someone in HR, or at least a higher-level manager, knows about the relationship from the beginning and is in a position to have the higher-level employee excuse him/herself from all decisions that might adversely or, for that matter, positively affect the other person.

Some other thoughts that come to mind:

  • Set up a third-party 800-number for complaints and pay attention to them. I’ve seen them pay for themselves many times—often in terms of frequency of such policies working and many times in terms of the money they have saved employers.
  • Make sure that all managers know that they should not try to handle any potential problem they think they may spot, or even have someone report, if they don’t have the training and designated responsibility to handle such matters.
  • Make sure all managers know that the very worst decision they can make is to suggest in any way that someone who perceives there is a problem should not take the problem to whomever in the organization is designated to deal with such matters. Some of the worst problems I have ever seen involved so-called “strong managers” who discouraged employees from taking problems to “the front office” or HR or to the person designated to investigate and handle such matters.

And…just because you’ve seen or heard it on TV doesn’t mean it’s ok.

Jennifer Sandberg, also a partner at Fisher & Phillips, spends a significant portion of her practice devoted to providing clients with day-to-day preventive advice to reduce the likelihood of demands, charges, and litigation. She has this to add:

The most common legal issue when two people from the same company or organization date one another is the possibility for a harassment or discrimination claim either from one of the parties involved or from another employee. The ramifications of such a claim are increased if a supervisor or manager is in the relationship. While under some facts, a manager having a “preference” for his or her paramour may be defensible, such a relationship is still risky for the manager and the employer. Thus, most employers have policies prohibiting a supervisor or manager from dating a non-manager within the same department of “sphere of influence.”

If a supervisor or manager wants to date an employee, first, the manager should be very certain he or she understands and complies with company policy. Assuming company policy does not prohibit the relationship, the manager might want to seek advance approval. Of course, if the relationship occurs, the manager must be sure that all aspects of both parties’ behavior are very professional. Ideally, it should be tough for co-workers to even figure out the relationship is going on based on what they observe at work.

More about workplace romances:

Workplace romance: doing it the right way, part 1

Workplace romance: doing it the right way, part 2

Workplace romance: not always a good thing

Workplace romance: the wrong way to date someone at work


About this Examiner: Kathryn Marion is the award-winning author of GRADS: TAKE CHARGE of Your First Year After College!, the most comprehensive resource for navigating the world of work and independent living after graduation, as well as host of the book’s companion resource site, The print edition of GRADS: TAKE CHARGE is available through Amazon and other online booksellers. The e-book edition is available through e-junkie.

Kathryn also coaches students, graduates, and career changers as well as consults with small businesses and aspiring authors.

Follow her other Examiner columns: College to Career and Life After College. And even more articles on

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