Pushing the Limits Between Love and Work
Oh how your heart aches with desire for the little hottie in the next office! Your pulse races when she is near – and beads of sweat appear on your upper lip. God only knows what other stealthy signals may rise surreptitiously.
What can you do? Should you keep a professional distance, stifle your lust and just yearn in silence? Or would it be better to seize the heat of the moment, bare your soul and unleash your passion in a private encounter in the office supply closet?
Easy, tiger! You better hit the water cooler before you do something crazy — or just plain stupid! The employee handbook doesn’t explicitly say “no sex on the job,” but it’s a good bet that it’s not okay to circle the bases. Think about the impact on your job, your career and your professional reputation. Will your colleagues still respect you in the morning?
As American workers spend more time at work, the office seems to be one of the few options to meet potential mates.
Sure, there are (and always have been) the occasional post-holiday party flings, but the data suggests that many office romances today actually blossom into long-term relationships. Vault.com’s “annual office romance survey” has consistently revealed that 59 percent of respondents have had an office romance — and half of those have led to long-term partnerships or marriage.
Dating a boss or co-worker has been taboo for so long that most people try to hide their romances — or at least keep them “supply-closeted.” Still, trysts within the workplace are widespread. According to the Vault survey, the most common location for a rendezvous is someone’s office, followed by the restroom, then the stairwell, the elevator, the copy room and, of course, the supply closet.
Employment law experts have noted a rise in the number of calls they get about employees who made “whoopee” in an area of the workplace that was recorded on video, like the parking lot. Who wants to see their own hot body in action all over YouTube?
An office romance can wreak havoc on your career. When you consider the legal implications, possible public humiliation, emotional distress and career complications, you should think twice before jumping into bed with a co-worker.
News about the proliferation of sexual harassment lawsuits has been spreading like wildfire for years. More and more companies, fearful of complaints, are adopting non-fraternization policies prohibiting romantic relationships at work.
Although not usually grounds for termination, such affairs can form the basis for expensive sexual harassment lawsuits, especially if between an employee and a supervisor. An employer might be sued by other employees if the supervisor demonstrates favoritism. In some states, the supervisor can be held personally liable for proven claims of sexual harassment.
So what can you do about your uncontrollable urges for the hottie?
Here are some suggestions for making it work:
- Don’t have a relationship with someone in your company unless you can stay far away from each other. Make the office a “touch-free” zone. And by all means, avoid boss/employee relationships.
- If you find yourself involved in a relationship, be honest about how you will handle it. Create a “pre-nup” that sets some ground rules for how you will both behave within the work environment as well as outside company events.
- Don’t use your work computer to exchange messages with your romantic partner. You need to assure that the company knows you’re spending your time on business. And it goes without saying, that daily lunches and breaks together only arouse suspicion and create unhealthy gossip.
- Maintain your other office relationships. It’s important to still hang out and act like you did before dating the other person. Your success hinges on the perception others have of you and your performance. Keep it positive.
- Be honest with your boss, in due time. Of course, it will come out eventually, so do a little damage control. Make sure your boss understands your respect for maintaining professionalism. (I learned this the hard way).
Most companies don’t have policies about dating in the office. However, some are beginning to react to the rise in workplace romances by clamping down on them; for example, requiring employees to sign so-called “Love Contracts” (seriously). A love contract confirms the parties’ agreement that the relationship is consensual and serves as a reminder of the company’s policy prohibiting sexual harassment.
Such contracts may not be sufficient to prevent subsequent costly lawsuits and hence, many companies have strict policies, especially prohibiting supervisors from dating subordinates. Many courts have validated the common-sense notion that supervisors can be prohibited from dating subordinates due to risk of perceived favoritism and potential sexual harassment liability. Whether courts will extend that idea to requiring consenting parties to enter into a love contract remains to be seen.
So for the time being, wild thing, you probably ought to just stay away from the office supply closet!
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons