The Folly of Office Romances

By Priest, Jim T. | THE JOURNAL RECORD, February 4, 2000 | Go to article overview
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The Folly of Office Romances


Priest, Jim T., THE JOURNAL RECORD


With Valentine's Day just around the corner and every drugstore exuding red hearts and candy, it's a highly appropriate time of year to discuss romance on the job.

Ahh, office romance. The very sound of the term makes the pulse quicken, the heart race and the imagination soar.

Whether the relationship is open and known or secretive and confidential, there is no doubt that office romances permeate nearly all workplaces. Many employees, over the years, have met their spouse at work and there is simply no denying that when men and women work in close proximity to one another the opportunity for love or lust will present itself.

What should be your company's policy on office romances? What should be your personal policy on workplace relationships? How do soured love affairs turn into sexual harassment lawsuits?

In the next few weeks, this column will examine these issues which, in recent years, have swamped the headlines, the courts and many individual lives.

Anyone who has casually glanced at a newspaper in recent years is aware of the furor over sexual harassment. Recent Supreme Court cases have made it clear organizations must not permit harassment to take place on the job and employers must take the initiative to correct problems if and when they arrive. Simply stated, what used to be viewed as joking, bantering or flirting in the workplace is often the precursor to a sexual harassment complaint and companies must be ever vigilant to keep this problem in check.

Consensual romances in the workplace do not fall within the definition of sexual harassment, since the courts say sexual harassment is "unwelcome" behavior. But even "welcome" behavior can plant the seeds of sexual harassment. Every office romance has the potential to fall apart and, once it does, behavior that was once welcomed -- and even encouraged -- can become fodder for the cannon of sexual harassment.

That's why individuals should avoid office romances and that's why organizations should discourage them whenever possible.

I know it sounds dull. I recognize it's no fun. But wouldn't you rather have less fun and fewer lawsuits? Wouldn't you rather be known as "dull" rather than "defendant"?

Office romances, even under the best of circumstances, create an awkward environment. Claims of preferential treatment arise. Unavoidable disagreements between lovers spill over into the workplace. Conflicting loyalties will be tested.

Office romances create problems in the workplace that need not exist and since (in theory) workers should be focusing on work while they're working, office romances inevitably get in the way of productivity.

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