David Letterman’s admission of romantic liaisons with several women in his office reminds us that dating someone from work can be risky business, even for consenting single adults. With employees logging 40 to 60 hours per week, it seems like work is one of the few places to meet prospective partners. But if the relationship goes sour and your partner alleges sexual harassment or an unfriendly foe spreads the word about your alliance, the ensuing allegations could damage your career.
Employers often frown upon workplace romances, because of the problems they pose, although most don’t have policies that restrict co-mingling among co-workers after hours. Still, a boss dating a subordinate might violate company policy or the terms of their management agreement.
It’s also important to consider the potential damage to your professional reputation, even if the practice isn’t prohibited. Candidates for managerial roles are often evaluated on their character and the decisions they’ve made and the judgments rendered by others aren’t always equitable. A highly regarded employee might be unscathed by an office romance, while someone in line for a promotion could damage their chances. If your relationship has been discussed by employees around the water cooler, word has probably spread to company executives.
If you decide to pursue a relationship with a co-worker, be sure to read your employee handbook and your employment agreement first, to make sure you’re not violating company policy. Also observe the practices of others and the company culture to estimate how your relationship will be perceived. Avoid dating someone who works in your department, so managers aren’t worried about your personal relationship influencing your work, and don’t date a vendor or client, because doing so could be a conflict of interest. And keep your relationship on the QT, until you both decide that the time is right to go public.
— Leslie Stevens-Huffman