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Home  > Article

Romance Rules

By Aimee Whitenack

With the workplace becoming the most likely place for Americans to meet romantic partners, what exactly are the rules about fraternizing with officemates? While policies vary company-to-company, here are some guidelines.

Studies show that as many as 80 percent of U.S. employees report some sort of social-sexual experience on the job.
You're working 80-hour weeks, you haven't had time to feed Maxwell (late-Aunt Gladys' puffer fish) let alone have a social life, and it's starting to seem fateful how often you and that guy from PR end up in the elevator together. Is it time for a little coworker courtship? You certainly wouldn't be the only one looking for romance in the office these days.

Studies show that as many as 80 percent of U.S. employees report some sort of social-sexual experience on the job. Okay, so we're not so sure what a "social-sexual experience" entails, but according to Montana State Professor Charles Pierce, the workplace is now the most likely place for Americans to meet a romantic partner. And it makes sense. With women comprising almost half of today's workforce and with the ever-increasing hours today's workers are spending on the job, it's no surprise that colleagues are coupling up. But how do the companies feel about it?

Do I need a hall pass?

There's lots of talk about whether companies permit office romance nowadays. Legally, a corporation can prohibit workplace romance in the form of "no-fraternization" policies. Court challenges to no-fraternization policies have rarely been successful, though the U.S. Supreme Court has yet to rule directly on the issue.

These policies, however, have become much less common in recent years, and a growing number of companies are adopting more employee-sensitive positions toward office romance. Besides eradicating the old no-fraternization policies that are still on the books, companies are proactively creating policies that officially permit coworker dating and marriage. Pierce says employers are recognizing that "Employees often channel romantic energy into work tasks. They bring enthusiasm and energy to their work." Companies such as Ben & Jerry's, Bankers Trust, Apple Computers, Bain & Company, and Johnson & Johnson are all known for their pro-interactive positions.

But other companies are choosing to maintain policies that restrict inter-departmental dating, meaning if two employees who work in the same department become love-locked, one is expected to transfer to another department within the company. In general, smaller companies seem to have more of a laissez-faire attitude toward office romance.

The Employer Perspective
Obviously, companies wouldn't regulate your social lives if your social life didn't interfere with your work life. Sexual harassment charges, extramarital affairs, favoritism, and changes in worker productivity can become workplace issues. If you're incessantly sending flirtatious emails, weeping over every hallway run-in with an ex, or simply distracting coworkers, your boss has a right to be irked. And speaking of bosses, we don't recommend that you date them. In essence, when it comes to office romance, just be professional.

Wedding Bells
If you do take the plunge and date a coworker, the numbers are looking good for you. According to Dennis Powers, author of The Office Romance, one-half of all workplace romances result in marriage or a long-lasting relationship. Whoa. So are the office-mates invited to the wedding?

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