Coworker dating can cause problems

October 28, 2019

A video taken in September of two airline employees brawling in the jetway at the Denver airport was reportedly precipitated by an intimate relationship between them. The video captured the male and female co-workers spitting, throwing punches and slapping each other. Both were terminated, according to Republic Airways. Although we don’t know what led to the fight, the interaction highlights the risk of co-worker dating.

Co-worker dating is more common than some may think.

When CareerBuilder published its 2018 Valentine’s Day survey conducted by the Harris Poll, 36% of those surveyed admitted to being in a current office romance.

About a quarter of those surveyed said they had an affair with a colleague where one person in the relationship was married to someone else.

A big problem with office romances is that they usually don’t end up in long-term commitment. Only 31% of those involved in an office romance said they ended up getting married.

When considering whether to start an office romance, employees should consider that if 70% of those relationships don’t work out, what happens in the workplace when the relationship ends?

The CareerBuilder survey revealed that 6% of those who were in an office romance said they left their jobs because the workplace relationship went sour.

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management revealed that 54% of companies have no policy addressing office romances.

HR professionals said in the SHRM study that the biggest concerns they had with workplace romances included favoritism, harassment and retaliation. Other concerns include low office morale due to the relationship and then an uncomfortable and awkward work environment for other employees who get dragged into the drama of an existing or broken relationship playing itself out in the workplace.

The emotional baggage that continues after a break-up negatively infiltrates the workplace. This is especially true if one of the individuals was married to someone else and then chooses to stay with the spouse, and break off the relationship with the co-worker.

Typically, one of the workers who was in the relationship feels that he or she is suffering from post-breakup harassment. This can occur because the person still wants to date the co-worker despite the co-worker’s objection, or the co-worker becomes angry over the breakup.

Regardless, those 70% of breakups don’t typically end well for the workers, the workforce or the company, and it can be costly in legal fees in the form of investigations and lawsuits, morale and turnover.

While 95% of HR professionals surveyed in the SHRM study said they find “love contracts” ineffective, there remains a potential benefit to outing workplace romances to prevent the secrecy that sometimes surrounds them.

In such a contract, employees involved in an office romance acknowledge the relationship and commit to ongoing compliance with workplace standards of conduct. The contract can explain the rights of workers to be free from harassment or retaliation, during or after the relationship.

In addition, dating a subordinate or supervisor should be off-limits. The power imbalance creates a conflict of interest and should be prohibited in the workplace.

Employers should consider implementing policies that explain the company’s position on co-worker dating, and should also implement policies prohibiting consensual romantic relationships between supervisors and subordinates.