Poll: Have You Been Negatively Affected By Co-workers' Office Romances?

Last Updated Apr 19, 2010 2:20 PM EDT

Chances are, you or someone you know has engaged in a workplace romance: According to a recent CareerBuilder.com survey, 40 percent of those polled said that they had dated a co-worker. Those in the throes of an office romance spend a lot of time thinking about that special co-worker, but likely don't give a lot of thought as to how their relationship is affecting the rest of their colleagues. However, if management doesn't consider this, it could mean a lot of trouble for the company.

A recent MIT Sloan Management Review article, "What Execs Don't Get About Office Romance," examines in depth some of the potential repercussions of dating co-workers. While the article mentions some of the well-known pitfalls for those involved in romantic office relationships, especially in superior-subordinate situations, it also focuses on the growing area of third-party lawsuits brought about by office romances.

As author John A. Pearce II, a management professor at Villanova University, explains:

According to U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regulations, an employer may be liable for a hostile work environment claim when there is unlawful sex discrimination against third-party employees who were qualified for but denied an employment opportunity or benefit, because it was given to an employee who was engaged in a romantic relationship with a supervisor.
To avoid the repercussions, whether legal or in the form of plummeting department morale, Pearce recommends having a policy in place that forbids supervisors from dating employees directly under their command. This shows that the company is committed to deterring "the opportunity for the supervisor to impose his or her will over the subordinate, to be vindictive or to show favoritism," which could all be potential outcomes of a supervisor-employee romance. Pearce also notes, "Once set, a policy limiting office romance needs to be monitored vigilantly and the penalties consistently applied."

Would such a policy stop bosses from secretly dating their employees? Of course not. But it could go a long way toward stopping your company from being sued.

Have you ever witnessed favoritism or felt uncomfortable in the workplace due to a romance between colleagues? Leave a comment or vote below.

Image courtesy of Flickr user CarbonNYC, CC 2.0.

  • Stacy Blackman

    Stacy Sukov Blackman is president of Stacy Blackman Consulting, where she consults on MBA admissions. She earned her MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and her Bachelor of Science from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Stacy serves on the Board of Directors of AIGAC, the Association of International Graduate Admissions Consultants, and has published a guide to MBA Admissions, The MBA Application Roadmap.