Sleeping With A Coworker: You May Not Get Fired, But You’ll Want To Quit

Rachel: I said that I thought you were a good kisser, and, uh, and that I like your teeny tiny tushy.
Tag: No, not my tushy.

Rachel: Maybe it’s not as bad as I think, y’know, maybe they didn’t take it the way I meant it.
Chandler: Absolutely, y’know, because tushy can mean both ass and good worker.-Friends

According to a joint survey conducted by the website and Glamour Magazine, approximately 41% of Americans aged 25 years to 40 years have admitted to being involved in a relationship with a co-worker. Studies have shown that it is the office relationships that take place between managers and their subordinates that cause they greatest degree of problems for both people involved, but especially the staff member who has to report daily to the manager. Adulterous affairs are on the rise as well, according to a number of research studies such as the survey conducted in 2006. Several thousand employers as well as employees were polled and the results showed that inappropriate sexual behavior in the office and on company time is on the rise.

But at the same time, it is easy to see how this can happen easily. In jobs where you are working all the time, no one understands your life as much as a coworker might. Late nights, close quarters, happy hours, etc., This is the perfect fodder for sleeping with someone. Except then you remember you are at work. And there are rules and policies and other people watching you. We talked to some career experts about the real ramifications of what happens when you sleep with a coworker.

Author, former employment attorney and workplace expert Lynne Eisaguirre broke down the basics of sleeping with a coworker from a legal perspective for The Grindstone:

“Contrary to popular belief, it is not sexual harassment for co-workers to date or sleep together if they’re at the same level and it’s truly consensual.  If a supervisor dates someone he/she supervises, that’s a different story.  I have had many situations where he (almost always a he) thought it was consensual, and then later found  out that she was only doing it to keep her job.  She quits, claims sexual harassment and frequently wins or the organization pays her off. For this reason, I always advise managers and executives to stay away from this situation entirely.   Even if this doesn’t happen, third parties frequently complain about the supervisor dating an employee and they can bring their own third party sexual harassment claims (also known as “paramour preference”).

Plus, third parties gossip about the issue, wasting time and injuring the reputation of both parties.  I am amazed, when I’m doing internal investigations, how judgmental co-workers are about this situation.  They think it’s against the values of the company and that the woman is just doing it to gain some inappropriate advantage over them. From a values perspective, I advise women to stay away from dating/sleeping with co-workers because it’s much simpler and more professional to separate your work and your personal life.  If you break up, it’s awkward at work and in the meantime, the gossip mill goes into overdrive.  I realize, however, that many of us spend so much time at work that it’s difficult to meet people any other way so, of course, it happens.  As for executives and managers, they should avoid this like the plague because of the legal problems as well as the value of their reputations.   For any of us, all we really have to sell at work is our reputation and once that’s gone, it’s really hard to rebuild.

So though you may not be fired the resulting consequences of your actions can be detrimental to your well being at the company, if this doesn’t turn into a significant relationship.

Toni Coleman, a Psychotherapist and Relationship Coach, told The Grindstone:

“Best case scenario is if two single people meet, get involved, fall in love- and with minimal disruption to the work environment/product- the relationship leads to something healthy and permanent. There are no issues involving a manager dating someone they supervise or a married co-worker dating another married co-worker or a single co-worker. This is one I haven’t seen too often.

When a supervisor dates someone under them, it often affects the work environment as other co-workers are uncomfortable with the sense of intimacy (that they often pick up on), and believe their co-worker is granted a special status, and more raises and perks- which is often the case. This is a major problem for any company as it can lead to sexual harassment and related charges by the individual involved following a break-up or by disgruntled co-workers.”

According to Eisaguirre, an organization can’t forbid co-workers at the same level from dating other co-workers in most states.  That’s because most states have a law that prohibit employers from disciplining or firing you if you’re doing something illegal outside of work.   These laws are called “off duty conduct” laws.

“You have a right to a private life.  An organization can, however, have a policy that forbids supervisors from dating employees but it’s described as a “conflict of interest”,  instead of dealing head-on with dating.  Under that policy, you can be disciplined or fired.  An organization can also become involved if one employee is harassing another outside of work, if they met at work and it’s affecting their ability to work together.  I’ve seen this happen many times when co-workers start out with a consensual, happy dating relationship but then one employee dumps another and the dumpee doesn’t like it and turns into a stalker.”

Unless you are sure this person may be someone you can have a real future with or you absolutely sure it will need to nothing complicated (and how often does that happen?), you really need to think about the risks this will present to your career before you do this.

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