Navigating Workplace Romance as an Employee
Know your company's anti-harassment policies and HR requirementsBy Judy Malmon, J.D. | Reviewed by Canaan Suitt, J.D. | Last updated on August 11, 2023
Use these links to jump to different sections:
- An Evolving Work and Legal Landscape
- Understand What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment
- Be Aware of Company Policies and Consult HR Professionals About Reporting Relationships
- Navigating The End of a Workplace Relationship and Seeking Legal Help
Many careers have been brought down in the post-MeToo era as long-disregarded sexual harassment claims are finally taken seriously.
It’s all probably making us wonder: What, exactly, is the law? What types of behaviors will be deemed actionable infractions? Is there conduct you engaged in a year ago that would get you fired today?
The short answer is yes.
An Evolving Work and Legal Landscape
On October 8, 2017, the date The New York Times published allegations of sexual assault regarding Harvey Weinstein, a fire was ignited. The enforcement of sexual harassment laws changed dramatically. A different standard of credibility took hold, which changed how the law is applied.
The #MeToo movement spurred people to reflect on their and others’ actions with greater scrutiny. But in many ways, rather than leading to increased clarity, this trend gave rise to the fear that any romantic overture or non-sexual compliment would be misconstrued—particularly in a work environment.
So, is it now off-limits to consider dating anyone you work with?
Understand What Constitutes Workplace Sexual Harassment
Fishing from the company pier is nothing new.
Since most people spend the majority of their waking hours at work, it’s natural that deeper connections will develop. One survey reports that a third of U.S. employees acknowledge either currently or previously having a romantic relationship with someone in their workplace—an uptick despite the rise in remote and hybrid work following the Covid-19 pandemic.
That said, there are some rules and standards to pay close attention to.
First, sexual harassment, which is a form of discrimination based on sex, establishes two types of offending behavior:
- Unwelcome overtures, actions, or statements of a sexual nature; and
- A collection of behaviors or statements that amount to a hostile work environment.
Both types of harassment are based on subjective and factually sensitive experiences. Therefore, it’s extremely important to get consent in any potential workplace dating relationship and make sure there is no power imbalance between dating parties.
In fact, there shouldn’t even be flirting between supervisors and their supervisees. Period.
Be Aware of Company Policies and Consult HR Professionals About Reporting Relationships
Some companies have incorporated new strategies and dating policies to ensure that the workplace remains a place for work.
For example, Facebook and Google both implemented what’s referred to as a “one-strike rule,” wherein an employee is allowed one overture toward another within the workplace (only if there is no power dynamic). Any answer short of an unequivocal yes is considered a rejection.
This type of romance policy addresses issues of perceived coercion and raises the bar on what constitutes consent. Still, it doesn’t provide guidance on how to navigate a consensual relationship that went awry or ended in a breakup.
Navigating The End of a Workplace Relationship and Seeking Legal Help
Failed office relationships can present a minefield that, if not handled properly, can lose you your job.
A recent survey found that 33 percent of unsuccessful office dating resulted in at least one person being terminated. No matter how you slice it, an office romance can pose a great risk for your career.
If you need additional guidance on workplace relationship issues beyond your human resources department, or feel that you were wrongfully terminated because of a work relationship, talk to a law firm or a knowledgeable employment law attorney with experience in workplace sexual harassment.
Additional Sexual Harassment articles
Find top lawyers with confidence
The Super Lawyers patented selection process is peer influenced and research driven, selecting the top 5% of attorneys to the Super Lawyers lists each year. We know lawyers and make it easy to connect with them.Find a lawyer near you