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The Dos and Don'ts of Office Dating -- for Employees and the Boss

You just might find that special someone in the next cubicle. But office relationships can also end in disaster. Here are some ways to avoid heartbreak -- and ensure you don't lose your job in the process.
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Tips For Employees:

When love is in the air, logistics are the last thing on your mind. But when you hook up with someone from the office, exercise caution. Here are some guidelines to keep things healthy when you're involved in an on-the-job romance:

  1. Be professional. Though it might be hard to focus with your partner right there at the desk around the corner, remember: At work, work is your first priority.
  2. Be discreet. That means no racy emails, no flirting, and no intimacies 9 to 5.
  3. Be upfront. Tell your boss what's going on, and your colleagues, too. That'll open up a dialogue and shut down the rumor mill before it starts churning out of control.
  4. Be flexible. It's pretty likely that one of you is going to have to make a move within the company, especially if the two of you have a supervisor/subordinate relationship at the office. If that happens, work with your boss to find the best fit.
  5. Be careful. If your partner suddenly starts giving you the cold shoulder, trying to work things out at work is a sure way to set yourself up for a sexual-harassment lawsuit.
  6. Be prepared. Consider whether or not you'll be able to stand your job if things do go sour. If not, you might want to have a backup plan in place, just in case.

Tips For Employers:

No matter what your take is when it comes to dating at the office, put it in writing. Businesses with written guidelines have stronger footing if and when a problem does arise than those who fail to address the issue. Here are some things to consider when crafting your company's policy:

  1. Obey the law. In some places, rules that prohibit fraternization among employees are illegal, so check out your state's laws before you ink your policy.
  2. Maintain order. Consider prohibiting or at least strongly discouraging supervisors from getting involved with their subordinates, since these are the relationships that are most likely to bring on sexual-harassment lawsuits.
  3. Always stay professional. If you're open to relationships among colleagues, focus your policy on how coupled employees should conduct themselves at the office. Remind employees to be discreet and professional and to keep the workplace a place for work.
  4. Stay above the fray. If you are prohibiting or discouraging office romance, don't get into whether or not you personally agree with it. Instead, keep the policy focused on how such behavior can damage morale, create an uncomfortable work environment, and otherwise negatively affect the company.
  5. Communicate. Once the policy is in writing, make sure all your employees know about it and make sure to review and update it from time to time.
  6. Educate. Compliment your policy with a series of sexual-harassment training seminars. Not only will they improve employees' understanding of what's appropriate at the office, but they'll also go a long way in showing you took all the right steps if a lawsuit were ever to arise.
  7. Follow your own rules. If you frown on inter-office relationships but you yourself are getting pretty friendly with your VP of marketing, your policy is as good as terminated.
Last updated: Feb 6, 2006




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