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The Dos and Don'ts of Coworker Dating and Breaking Up

written by: Sylvia Cochran•edited by: Jean Scheid•updated: 5/17/2011

The rules for dating a coworker are generally focused on protecting the company, where etiquette tips covering the relationship break-up serve in preventing a job loss not the loss of the love relationship. What should you never ever do when dating or dumping a colleague?

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    Love and Work

    “Shadow of people holding hands Even though some companies have attempted to institute a “no fraternization" rule for staff members, it is impossible to police what the workers do during off hours. The Hofstra Law School points to studies claiming that between 24 percent and 71 percent of workers have indeed been a party to a workplace romance.

    As businesses have come to fear sexual harassment claims and also allegations of creating a hostile work environment, some have instituted office romance policies. Others turn a blind eye and trust the workers will self-police. Whereas the corporate world has inoculated itself against the potential problems brought on by workplace relationships, the workers themselves still bear the burden of a messy break-up or an otherwise stormy love match.

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    Rules for Dating Another Employee

    Observe basic boundaries. Keep relationship issues and daily business interactions separate. Coworkers most likely do not want to see you hugging and smooching. Even though other employees will quickly know that you two “are an item," they do not necessarily care for overt displays of affection.

    Make an effort at socializing with others. This is especially important at workplace functions or parties. When you attend as a couple, it is polite to be outwardly focused and interact with colleagues. The same holds true for the lunch room.

    Know the downside. Marriage-minded employees hope for the best, but some relationships simply do not work out. Before getting serious about -- or even interested in -- a relationship with a coworker, consider carefully if you will be able to work side by side with the person if he dates someone else.

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    Things to Avoid When Dating a Colleague

    Using work email for romance. Do not send lovey-dovey emails, risqué photos or rambling love letters to your significant other. Even if the company does not have a written policy against employee dating, there is bound to be a set of rules that governs sexual harassment. Explicit emails can lead to termination based on their contents.

    Failing to accept that the relationship is over. Break-ups are rarely mutual, and a jilted lover could quickly be perceived as a stalker. If the unhappy romantic is dismissed for allegations of sexually harassing a coworker, this reputation can follow him to another job.

    Using social media to get even. Facebook, Twitter and MySpace are fertile grounds for making a shaky relationship go toxic. Off-time harassment of a colleague may be of little interest to the boss or the company without a workplace dating policy, but it might get a carefully cultivated Facebook profile shut down.

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    Before giving that cute coworker a second look, it is also a good idea to consult the employee handbook to see if there are spelled out rules for dating a coworker. It is unwise to jeopardize a career for the sake of a fling.

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    Sources

    • Hofstra Law School. “Romance in the Workplace - When ‘Love’ Becomes Litigation" at http://law.hofstra.edu/pdf/Academics/Journals/LaborAndEmploymentLawJournal/labor_vol25no1_Binetti.pdf (accessed May 13, 2011)
    • Photo Source: “Shadow of people holding hands" by Mike DelGaudio/Wikimedia Commons