And to HR we’ll go

Valentine’s Day is upon us, and if you work in the American workplace, there’s a pretty good chance Cupid has taken aim at you and a co-worker sometime during the course of your career.

But that scenario doesn’t always end happily ever after for the participants, and can equate to heartache for human resource departments.

Workforce resource website Vault.com’s 2014 office romance survey found 56 percent of business professionals who responded had participated in some type of romantic relationship thanks to the workplace.

Lorrie Ray is director of membership development with the human resources consulting firm Mountain State Employers Council, and is an attorney who assists members with legal issues. She said workplace romance isn’t just a Valentine’s issue.

“Our organization gets calls about this every day,” she said. “It’s quite common to go to work, notice each other — and things happen.”

Ray said office romances can be separated into the good, the bad and the ugly.

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“A lot of people meet future mates at work, and fall in love and that’s great,” she said of the good. “That’s a great thing when people enjoy one another’s company and sometimes they even work well together. Where would we be without a place for people to meet and get married?”

Ray said Colorado law protects legal activity when away from the workplace, and the state’s at-will employment status doesn’t supersede statute. Essentially, you can’t legally be fired for dating a co-worker — except, sometimes, you can.

“You can be fired for conflicts of interest,” she said. “If you’re dating a subordinate and you don’t tell management, that may be a conflict.”

And that’s bad, Ray said.

“If you’re going to date a subordinate, make sure you love them very much, because your boss may fire you,” she said.

Karin Brumbaugh, director of public relations for the Colorado Springs Society for Human Resource Management and human resources director of Perkins Motor Company, said transparency is key.

“If two employees are starting to date, it’s good to notify the HR team or a direct supervisor,” Brumbaugh said.

“You always want things to end wonderfully, but they don’t always — and that can create situations that could be difficult.”

Also bad is having to watch two coworkers Eskimo kiss and call each other “Shmoopie” when you’re just trying to finish your TPS report.

“Bad is when romance carries over to the workplace,” Ray said. “Employees don’t like to see other people being inappropriate at work.”

And then there’s the ugly.

“Sexual harassment,” Ray said of workplace romance’s worst-case scenario. “Pursuing someone even when they make it clear they’re not interested — repeatedly.”

Ray said, asking someone on a date is not illegal, “as long as the person who is turned down lets go and moves on.”

Demanding romantic favors in exchange for advancement is also a one-way ticket to a sexual harassment lawsuit, she said.

So what’s an HR professional to do?

“Have a sexual harassment policy and be sure employees are well trained in it,” Ray said. “Also, know what harassment is and what it’s not.”

Brumbaugh said it’s important for employees to know employer expectations and whether there is a “do-not-date” policy.

“When personal relationships are frowned upon, it’s not really a friendly work environment, though,” Brumbaugh said.

“And employers can’t restrict how employees socialize after work. But they can create guidance and expectations for employees.”

Ray said her best piece of advice is to simply remember where you are.

“Keep your work and private life separated,” she said. “It’s OK to fall in love at work, but behave appropriately.”

For more information, visit the Mountain State Employers Council’s website or the Colorado Springs Society for Human Resource Management’s site.


Vault.com’s 2014 office romance survey says:

•  19 percent of men reported instances of “random hookups” with colleagues, compared to 12 percent of women.

•  17 percent of women report that office romances led to “long-term relationships,” compared to 11 percent of men.

•  20 percent of women have dated a supervisor while only 9 percent of men have dated their boss.

•  25 percent of men have dated a subordinate while only 10 percent of women have dated a subordinate.

— Vault.com