Love is in the Air, But Let's Filter it Out of the Office

Posted by: Gail Cecchettini Whaley, J.D. on Thursday, February 13, 2020

If you think office romances aren't happening in your workplace, think again! Despite your best efforts to discourage these office romances, 58% of employees have engaged in a romantic relationship with a colleague.

While only 30% of those ages 18-21 have been romantically involved with a co-worker, the longer you work it appears the more likely you have had a workplace romance; a surprising 72% of those over 50 years old have been romantically involved with a co-worker, according to's 2019 Office Romance Survey.

No matter how hard they try, some people just can't seem to help themselves. Only 37% of respondents have intentionally avoided office romances. Here's one of the more interesting responses:

"Every fiber of my being tells me 'do not pursue office romances.' And yet, every time I'm in a situation where I feel there may be a connection, I don't cut it off."

Nearly three out of four people who have participated in an office romance said they would do it again!

"I know it's a bad idea to date co-workers. But these are the people you spend the most time with. If you don't have much of a life, it may be the only place to meet people."

"My relationship has not impacted my work or life in any negative way. I love working with someone I love."

Cupid's Arrow Hits its Target

How do these office romances begin? According to the survey:

  • "Random hookups" are the most common type of relationship (31%)
  • Most office romances start when the couple work in the same department (26%), have offices near each other (18%) or attend a happy hour or holiday party (17%)
  • Nearly half of the respondents know a co-worker who had an affair at the office or while on a business trip and nearly 2 out of 10 respondents have themselves had an office affair (office relationship while in a committed relationship outside of work)
  • Most people kept it secret (64%) — 38% didn’t tell anyone and 26% only told a select few; 16% decided to share it with everyone, including their bosses
  • 75% don't think their romance affected anyone

Power Play? Not Okay!

The issue of "power dynamics" made many respondents uncomfortable, especially if one of the participants was in charge of the other's performance reviews, pay and so forth. According to the survey, over one-third of the respondents disapprove of relationships between co-workers at different levels.

Some good news from the survey: only 13% of respondents claim to have dated a subordinate, the lowest percentage to date from the surveys.

Power dynamics really "up the ante" where sexual harassment is concerned. Is a supervisor and subordinate relationship truly consensual or "welcome"—given the fact that a supervisor has the power to fire the employee or ruin his or her career? Remember, employers are held strictly liable for a supervisor's sexual harassment of a subordinate.

Cue the Violins

Consensual relationships between peers can negatively impact the workplace. Most co-worker relationships don't last forever, and when the relationship ends, there are often hard feelings. This can lead to gossip, drama, poor morale, absenteeism, turnover, and lack of productivity. Even worse, one party may keep pursuing the other — turning what was once welcome conduct into an unwelcome work environment. Employers can be liable for co-worker harassment if they knew or should have known of the conduct and fail to take immediate and appropriate corrective action.

What Employers Should Do:

  1. Provide all employees with an up-to-date harassment, discrimination and retaliation prevention policy.
  2. Consider a "consensual relationship dating policy" to be signed by employees when they choose to date another employee in the workplace.
  3. Meet your CA training obligations by providing one hour of harassment prevention training to all employees and two hours of harassment prevention training to supervisors. All employers with 5 or more employees must meet these training requirements by the end of 2020.

Let CEA help! From Harassment Prevention Training and Employee Handbooks to Investigations and Onsite Assistance, CEA is here to offer personalized support and services for your California workplace.


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