When you spend so much time at work, with the same routine day in and out, you may be searching for something to change things up. Or maybe someone new has joined the staff, and they catch your eye. Once you develop a crush on a coworker, it can be hard to decide what to do.
After all, like we pointed out, you’re their up to eight hours a day. Maybe more if you work overtime. But you may be wondering what the repercussions of dating a coworker might be. Could it get messy? Or worse—could you get fired?
Maybe Yes, Maybe No
Like so many questions in life, the answer is maybe. It really depends on your workplace policies and maybe even state law. And whether or not it’s illegal, there could be other hurdles you haven’t considered yet. But there are a few common scenarios you might encounter, and they’re worth thinking about before you move forward with any kind of office romance.
The Free For All
There are plenty of workplaces that don’t have any limits on dating at all. You might find this in a family-owned business, especially one where the owners originally met on the job. Many places understand that people are, well, human, and that the heart wants what it wants. The key is to keep things professional at all times and to make sure you get your work done.
No matter how understanding your bosses may be, you’re being paid to work, not to flirt. Being in love or deep-like is not reason enough to slack off, and there’s no employer in the world that thinks otherwise. Most states in the U.S. consider every job “at-will employment,” meaning you can be fired at any time for any reason—or no reason at all. If you’re preoccupied and not getting your work done, it’s possible you could get fired.
Keeping Everyone Comfortable
A very, very common limitation to dating in the workplace prohibits people in management or supervisory positions from dating people lower on the food chain, so to speak. Much of this is purely practical; laws regarding sexual harassment protect workers from unwanted language and interactions, especially in situations where a worker feels their job is at risk if they don’t comply with romantic or sexual interactions.
With that in mind, be clear about your intentions to your potential love interest, and if they give you any sign they’re not interested, whether it’s a direct “no” or a change in body language or tone. Remember, this can happen—or even just be perceived to have happened—regardless of the combinations of gender and sexual identity. Gay, straight, woman, man, trans or gender nonbinary: any person can be the harasser or the harassed.
You’re likely not trying to make anyone uncomfortable with your crush, but the laws are in place to keep everyone feeling safe in the workplace. You should respect them, and know that they’re there to make sure no one feels threatened at work. If you cross a line here, you most definitely will get fired.
Somewhere In Between
Some workplaces will require you to disclose your relationship to your job’s human resources department. Again, it’s to create a buffer against potential sexual harassment lawsuits, so don’t take it personally. The sticky piece here is exactly when you and your new love interest disclose that relationship.
Your HR office or employee handbook may give you some extra guidance on this. If it doesn’t, though, think about how far along in the relationship you’ve gotten and if you see a future in it. Just one drink? Probably not worth disclosing. But if you’re seeing each other on a regular basis, maybe it’s time to disclose.
This can put you both in a tough spot. Those disclosures usually need to be made by both of you, and that can force a commitment discussion neither of you is willing to have yet. And in some cases, it can make a somewhat commitment-phobic person feel trapped.
That could be a fringe benefit for you—if someone’s not ready to get serious, or they feel backed into a corner, rooting that out somewhat early can be a really good thing. But just like all other scenarios, it doesn’t matter if your workplace allows coworkers dating or not, in most places you can be fired for no reason at all.
Ask Yourself If It’s Worth It
The bottom line is that if you’re considering a workplace romance, you also need to consider the potential downsides. Even if it’s legal, even if your employer allows dating, casual or not, it may just be too much of a hassle to bother with. Breakups can be sticky even on a good day, but what if things go south? Navigating a breakup in the workplace can be worse than a plain old breakup, and if you’re the one left heartbroken, do you really want to spend all day trapped in the same room with your ex?
You’ve also got coworkers to contend with. Whether it’s true or not, some of your coworkers may feel as if our coupledom makes their job harder, or that you and your significant other are sharing work resources or information that they need to do their job well.
Or they may just be annoyed by your cutesy flirting or the perception that the two of you are glued together at the hip. Do you plan on staying in this job long enough that the repercussions of tha relationship and/or breakup long term? Or can you have a casual fling and keep it both quiet and respectful? Good jobs are hard to come by.
Then again, so is true love. If you feel like the risk is worth the reward and it’s not specifically prohibited, go for it. But know there could be repercussions, even if things go smoothly. Make sure you’re ready to face the music either way.