Office romance: 5 things HR wants you to know

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(MoneyWatch) Does Valentine's Day have you considering an office romance, but you're worried it will derail your career? That can happen, but it might be worth the risk. Office romances often lead to long-lasting relationships, which isn't surprising since you spend most of your waking hours with your co-workers. A new survey from CareerBuilder found that three in ten office romances ended in marriage. And 39 percent of people admitted making a cubicle mate their actual mate at some point in their career.

Are you in that 39 percent, or considering joining it? Recently, I asked human resources and career consultant Elaine Varelas, with the Keystone Partners firm in Boston, Mass., what HR wants you to consider:

Don't date your boss or underling

Dating someone you report to or who reports to you causes a direct conflict of interest for both of you -- and the company. "HR needs to know it doesn't impact any decisions you make about assignments, opportunities, promotions, windows offices, or the biggest or smallest favor you might imagine," says Varelas. If something develops between you and someone in this category, try to change your reporting status ASAP.

Keep PDA out of the office

Public displays of affection around the office, as well as in the parking lot or at company events can make others uncomfortable and make you appear unprofessional, says Varelas. While work might be the place you met your lover, the business day is the time to work on work -- not on your relationship.

Tell HR when it's real

Is this a fling, or a real relationship? If this is going to be a long-term union, discuss it with the other person and decide together to tell HR. "The more senior of the two involved should have that conversation. And be prepared to show how this will not influence business," says Varelas.

Know your company rules

Now is the time to review your company handbook, says Varelas, so you know if there are any official guidelines on office romance. It's crucial to do this before you disclose your relationship to anyone, including HR. You'll go into that meeting knowing what issues -- if any -- you will face.

Prepare for the worst

Yes, three in ten office romances end in marriage. But that means the majority don't go that distance. "Be prepared by having already discussed with your partner what happens if you break up. Will one of you leave? What happens if it is ugly?" says Varelas, who says writing out a private memo on the subject, just for the two of you, may be helpful.

Bottom line: Be very discreet. Most of your co-workers shouldn't know, says Varelas: "Let them find out when they get a wedding invitation."

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    Amy Levin-Epstein is a freelance writer who has been published in dozens of magazines (including Glamour, Self and Redbook), websites (including AOLHealth.com, Babble.com and Details.com) and newspapers (including The New York Post and the Boston Globe). To read more of her writing, visit AmyLevinEpstein.com.