By: Amy Matthews, SPHR

As Valentine’s Day draws near and thoughts of love come to mind, we usually don’t include work romances as part of our thought process.  Unless, of course, you are either in HR or are dating (or married to) someone in the work place.

The statistics are interesting.

38% of workers say they have dated a co-worker at least once over the course of their professional career; 17% say they have dated a co-worker “at least twice.” Not surprising, 31% say their office romance led to marriage.  Out of these numbers, 28% of the folks who dated a co-worker acknowledge that the “co-worker” was really their manager, and another 18% admitted to dating their boss. As lovely as this is, 6% of workers surveyed said they had to leave a job when the romance went sour. (Source:

Where does this leave us when it comes to HR and compliance? This is where the love story, without proper guidance, can move to the horror genre.

A key to avoiding the potential for harassment is realizing that a person who holds power/authority over another is in a perfect position to be considered a harasser, even when there is no ill intent, if/when thing go sideways. Dating a subordinate is a risky business, indeed. Even asking a subordinate out on a date can be considered a power play, especially if the attention is unwanted. It’s best to walk away if your advances are declined.

Best practice when it comes to office romance is to follow company policy. Some companies don’t have a policy on workplace romances (which is not recommended), and others have some basic verbiage, such as “any romantic relationships that occur at work should be reported to HR.” Some language is better than none. A policy, even with the most basic verbiage, allows the company to protect itself to some degree against potential harassment issues.

If you know that a supervisor is dating a member of his/her staff, it behooves you to address the relationship before it becomes an issue. This will help avoid any potential accusations of favoritism, as well as those of harassment. Depending on company policy, this may include moving one of the parties to another department or another position, or terminating employment of one or both of the parties.

Another recommendation is keeping a relationship checklist.  This checklist will give you a bird’s eye view of who is doing what — and with whom — within the company.  This allows HR to manage perceptions by making sure that all workers are being treated, promoted, and disciplined in an equitable fashion. This relationship checklist is equally helpful where there are familial relationships (and the potential for allegations of nepotism) within the company.

Work can be complicated enough without adding any excess relationship bias into the mix. Make sure you know where your company stands on workplace romance, so you don’t find yourself on the wrong side of this issue.